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Edmund Perry had everything to look forward to. A straight A student from the backwaters of Harlem, he won a scholarship to a prestigious prep school and followed that up with a scholarship to Stanford. Then a police officer was apparently mugged by two young black men, one of whom, Eddie, he shot dead. The film then flashes backwards to two years before the mugging, during which Eddie is shown as a young black student struggling to make his mark in a white and prejudiced world. Yet he does well nevertheless, making friends and plans for the future. Could Eddie have been involved in the mugging? Or was his death an accident, and then covered up by the police?
Eddie is played by Curtis McClarin and he does a good, if not outstanding, job of holding the film together as the main character. The viewer is immediately made to feel sympathy with him. From a poor background, where everyone else makes a living by whatever means necessary, he is handed an opportunity to 'make something of his life' as his mother and his teachers tell him. Yet he finds it impossible to fit into his new life, particularly when he is reminded at every turn that he is not the same as everyone else. Even more frustratingly, when he returns home, his brother and friends think that he has turned his back on them. McClarin does a really good job of portraying the internal struggle that goes on inside Eddie, and manages to win over the audience at the same time. For an actor I've not heard of before, I think he was great.
There are a couple of other actors worth a mention. Cuba Gooding Jr plays his best friend from home, who turns on Eddie as he turns into an 'Oreo' as another friend puts it. It's not a brilliant performance, but it is a competent one. Less impressive are Christopher Daniel Barnes and Carla Gugino as Eddie's 'white' friends. Barnes is competent, but is a little smug and occasionally wooden. Gugino is awkward and a little difficult to watch. She plays a shy girl who is unable to accept other people's condemnation of her for dating a black man, but it comes across as bad acting rather than shyness and her attempts to cry at the end of the film are really painful to watch.
There is one other thing that bothered me about the film and that is the age of the actors and the characters they are supposed to be playing. At a prep school, the main characters are supposed to be aged 16-18, yet the actors look much older and at first I presumed that they were University age. Certainly McClarin would have been in his 20s when the film was made, and Barnes and Gugino would have been just 20. Most importantly is how they look. And although it isn't a big issue, it did make me pause during the course of the film. Had Eddie looked younger, for example, his behaviour and reactions would have been a lot more understandable than they perhaps were.
This film is based on a true story, which is what made the film so watchable for me. After Eddie's death, there really was a lot of fuss in the media - Eddie's squeeky clean background made it seem impossible that he could have been involved in mugging anyone, let alone a police officer, even though there were plenty of witnesses to say that he was. What I liked about the film was that it wasn't overly judgemental. It portrayed the good and bad in everyone involved, most especially Eddie - he was neither perfect nor completely prejudiced against those he saw as prejudiced against him. The film doesn't have any answers - the viewer is left to make up their own mind as to who is to blame for Eddie's shooting - although the truth according to the film-makers is revealed at the end of the film.
This is a made-for-TV film and, knowing this, I wasn't expecting a great deal. Certainly, it is obvious that there wasn't a huge budget involved in the filming. The sets are basic and there is nothing clever about the way the film is shot. And the acting, with the exception of McClarin, could certainly have with a little polishing up. Nevertheless, it is an intriguing story and I really liked the way it was told - starting with a clip of the end, so that we know that Eddie ends up dead, but then skipping backwards to show his apparently perfect background. From the content point of view, I would say that it is a lot better than some of the so-called big budget Hollywood films that come out today.
There are a few extras that come with the film, but there is nothing to get excited about - merely a background to the film and the Edmund Perry story and actor biographies for McClarin and Cuba Gooding Jr. Finally, there were a few trailers, including one for this film and a couple for others in the Infinity True Stories collection.
On the whole, I enjoyed this film - I found it moving and very thought provoking. Having experienced some racism myself while living abroad, I could really understand how Eddie felt and to an extent, a lot of what happens appears to be as a result of his environment. Unfortunately, it's not going to be a film that many people will give more than a passing glance to - it just isn't exciting enough and the low production costs show in the acting and sets. If you catch it on TV or can buy it cheaply, I do think it's worth a watch; otherwise, it's probably not worth the bother. Three stars out of five.
The DVD is available from play.com for £5.99. I bought my copy from Poundland.
Classification: PG (some bad language and suggestions of drug use)
Running time: 120 minutes