In director Charles Officer’s crime-noir “Akilla’s Escape,” now on digital & VOD, a drug robbery goes sideways, opening the door for the title character’s reckoning of his past, and the future of the young man who held a shotgun to his head.
Drug dealer Akilla (Saul Williams, who also composed the film’s score with Robert 3D Del Naja) wants out. Marijuana is about to become legal in Canada, but his days as a violent, mid-level drug runner are over.
His ‘retirement” is postponed when he walks in on the robbery of one of his boss’s operations. As shotgun and machete wielding gang members invade the place, Akilla locks eyes with Sheppard (Thamela Mpumlwana), the youngest of the thieves. As things turns violent, Akilla subdues the teenaged Sheppard, knocking him unconscious.
Instead of seeking revenge in the name of his employer, Akilla forms a bond with the young man, recognizing in Sheppard parallels to his own life and the trauma that put them both on the path to a life of violence.
“Akilla’s Escape” is a stylish crime story laced with social commentary. What it lacks in pulse racing action scenes, it makes up for with tense, tightly wound performances, illustrations of toxic masculinity and a nicely rendered story that jumps back and forth in time.
Taking on a double role, Mpumlwana plays both Sheppard and, in flashbacks, young Akilla. It’s a clever casting trick, but it works to skillfully reveal the similarities in their lives. The two characters may have been led down a similar path, but Mpumlwana’s work ensures the characters are distinct and interesting throughout.
The core of the movie is the rock-solid performance from Williams. World-weary and contemplative, he’s part criminal, part social worker and is the film’s heart and soul.
“Akilla’s Escape” is a study of how generational trauma and poverty shapes lives. It errs on the side of exposition in several scenes, but the power of the story lies in what isn’t said as much as what is. The film is at its best when Williams and Mpumlwana are showing, not telling. In those moments “Akilla’s Escape” is powerful, mature and impactful.