STARRING: John Boyega, Rotimi Akinosho, Keke Palmer, Glenn Plummer, De’Aundre Bonds, Sufe Bradshaw, Jernard Burks, Nora Zehetner, Anika Noni Rose and Maximiliano Hernández
A 21-year-old reformed gangster’s devotion to his family and his future is put to the test when he is released from prison and returns to his old stomping grounds in Watts, Los Angeles.
Imperial Dreams focuses on a young reformed gangster named Bambi who is released from prison and returns home to Watts, Los Angeles. Bambi devotes his time to his family, particularly his son and begins planning out his family’s future and give up his old way of life to become a writer but his will is put to the test as old connections attempt to pull him back in as Bambi discovers the struggles of getting rehabilitated.
Imperial Dreams is a film that was screened during the festival circuit in 2014, from Sundance to Rio de Janeiro to Abu Dhabi to Jerusalem. So it comes as a surprise that it’s only now through Netflix that most of us will be able to follow the story of Bambi, a reformed gangster that is released from prison and how he tries to get rehabilitated whilst living in Watts, Los Angeles.
I’m always a sucker for a story of a young man trying to turn his life around whilst his environment and circumstance is trying to keep him down and avoids the initial cliche that a number of films before it have gone and that is Bambi takes one last job to make ends meet. It’s the easiest option available but Bambi takes a different and more difficult path for him and his son. Bambi is an aspiring writer and hopes to educate youngsters not to follow in his past footsteps. That’s all well and good but the obstacles placed in front of him by the bureaucracy places him between a rock and a hard place. The way that the system is tackled is somewhat reminiscent of Ken Loach’s film last year, I, Daniel Blake, where Bambi learns that he can’t get a job because he can’t get a driver’s licence, he can’t get a driver’s licence because he owes child support, which he can’t pay, because he hasn’t got a job. I thought it was a well directed film from Malik Vitthal, making his directorial feature debut here, especially in the way that he shoots around the location of Watts as Bambi wanders the streets by day and sleeps in the car with his son at night. I was rather impressed with the score also, from none other than Flying Lotus. John Boyega gives a very natural and vulnerable performance as Bambi, you can literally see him carry the weight of the world on his shoulders with a system that works against him and his uncle set on having him repeat his old ways under his rule.
While the film highlights the way system works against young offenders looking to get rehabilitated, for me it kind of scratches the surface on that material but doesn’t really go for the jugular with it. The final act somewhat felt anti-climatic for me too but I will admit that I still felt the impact from it and it felt more natural in earning that ending compared to I, Daniel Blake.
A solid directorial fetature debut outing from Malik Vitthal that I hope he gets back on studios radars now with the films exposure on Netflix. John Boyega carries the film with natural charm and makes us root for Bambi to come out on the other side of a system that seems set to work against him seeking reform. 7/10