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Arts in Review

Bushwick might be more style than substance

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The indie-action film Bushwick has recently made its way to Canadian Netflix, and has been on my wishlist for a while — if only because Aesop Rock, one of my favourite rappers and producers of all time, was in charge of the film’s soundtrack.

Taking place in a working-class Brooklyn neighbourhood being invaded by radical Texan secessionists, the film’s interesting angle taps into today’s politics, even though its production schedule had it filming in 2015. Dave Bautista in a leading role as Stupe, a grizzled and complicated war veteran, might also be appealing to those who have fond memories of the last two Guardians of the Galaxy films. However, there is failure in both these regards, both to the depth of the script and themes, and Bautista’s inability to compellingly portray serious emotion in the heavier scenes. But, before I bury this film, there are some positives that make it worth at least streaming in the background while you do more important things, like scroll Twitter or clean your living room.

Aesop Rock delivered with the soundtrack, setting a tone while being true to his style: unabashedly weird, urban, and gritty. If only it could have been mixed above the dialogue. The camera work features tight editing and ambitious long takes that really give a sense of space and movement. The plot follows Lucy, a young student, just a few blocks and house by house from a subway station to a U.S. military safe zone as she meets up with Stupe, other residents, looters, and the invading black-clad private military soldiers who are revealed to be former fellow Americans trying to strongarm the U.S. government into accepting their terms.

Between seeing citizens armed with lacrosse sticks, storm blockades, and Hasidic Jews and minority youth engaging in running firefights with mercenaries, the action and choreography is a strong point in the film. Funny enough, the visuals in Bushwick reminded me quite a bit of what a better game Tom Clancy’s The Division could have been, with occupied city streets, and the New York tenacity that shines through in the supporting cast and extras. This could have been a better film if it kept up the action, the confusing mess of the war zone and mystery of trying to get our bearings alongside the characters, and not gotten bogged down by trying to make Stupe or Lucy more interesting than they could be given the situation.

Between the absurdity of the little backstory we’re given to explain the fighting, and a hamfisted scene in which Stupe reveals his family died on 9/11 (which is overly-dramatized to the point of unintentional comedy), the film gets lost at trying to make too many shallow allusions to bigger ideas that the writers obviously weren’t equipped to flesh out.

I still don’t know what the point of the “story” itself was, but the concept and visuals are cool enough that, if the film was recut and expanded into a longer music video, it might be redeemable. As it stands, it’s another interesting concept held back by poor acting and writing.

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