Courtesy of Netflix
In Joe Robert Cole’s second feature, “All Day and a Night,” the “Black Panther” co-writer tackles the livelihood of inner-city youth on the outskirts of Oakland, California. Featuring a commanding lead performance from “Moonlight” standout Ashton Sanders and fine supporting work from Jeffrey Wright, “All Day and a Night” sends a conflicting message about finding yourself in a society turned against you, especially as the protagonist gets sent to prison in the opening scene and doesn’t show any growth until the final shot. Still, Cole’s second feature is a major step up from his last directorial effort and should find a solid audience when it lands on Netflix.
For Jahkor (Sanders) his whole life has been dictated by “getting what’s yours.” Growing up, he was taught to be the hardest thug in the room, and to curb stomp anyway that got in his way, a method his disgruntled, and drug-dealing father (Wright) would beat into him if he failed to do so. It isn’t long into “Night” where Jah (a nickname) makes his biggest and most detrimental mistake: killing a rival gang member and his wife in cold blood. How or why we got here is unclear at first, and when he’s sentenced to life in prison, he ends up in the same place as his dad: like father, like son.
It’s a tough opening scene to swallow, watching a young twenty-something black man becoming another statistic on the chalkboard, but Cole decides to open the curtain and peel back the layers of Jah’s past and tries to humanize him in the process. By the end, it’s clear that Jah might have ended up in a better place than on the streets, but at what cost? His pregnant girlfriend is going to be forced to raise their child alone, and his mother is stuck with the guilt she raised Jah incorrectly.
“All Day and a Night” doesn’t shy away from the harsh and graphic depictions of inner-city life. Racial epithets and slurs are thrown around like candy, women aren’t seen as anything other than objects (save for maybe Jah’s girlfriend) and gun violence runs rampant. Which, over the course of two hours, doesn’t allow for much soul searching. Cole, awkwardly, intercuts between Jah in prison and his life before that, including his childhood and it never hunkers down a clear focus of the two. Part of me would have liked to see Jah connecting with his father more in prison, but their relationship is far more complicated and perhaps not sustainable.
Jah does try to get clean, several times, and it’s heartbreaking watching him fall back into the same routines: drugs, guns, and, petty robbery, despite his efforts to jumpstart a rap career (he wrote some slick beats) but again, the system is constantly turned against him that it’s no surprise he ends up where he does.
It’s raw and somewhat depressing how the only hope Cole allows us to latch onto is that, at least in prison, the kid has a shot at living, but then he counteracts that by showing Jah trying to stab a fellow innate and asserting his dominance, so I’m not sure what the filmmaker was trying to say in that instance? Yet Sanders, who has had steady work since his breakthrough role, is astounding to witness, and suggests a promising career is in his future. He’s got remarkable screen presences, and the emotional range to carry stronger scripts.
After all the dust settles, “All Day and a Night” is an interesting social odyssey that can seem like an overkill in stereotypes, but still provides enough weight to send you home with some form of hope for the future.
ALL DAY AND A NIGHT begins streaming on Netflix on Friday May 1st.