Growing up in Cleveland, Cisco (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) and his friends, Junior (Moises Arias), Boobie (Ezri Walker) and Patty Cake (Rafi Gavron), dream of becoming professional skateboarders. They devote their time to practising their skills and trying to build up as much money as possible, so they can finally escape their dysfunctional neighbourhood.
Desperate to finance their dream, they have taken to stealing cars for quick cash. One night they discover a stash of drugs, and Cisco convinces his pals that they should sell the drugs, and use the money for their skateboarding competition.
Cisco and his friends’ shift to a life of drug-dealing is the catalyst for a series of events, which involves local crime boss, Momma (Linda Emond), whose power in the underground drug world starts to endanger their lives. The Land is a gritty story of a group of youths whose positive aspirations are hampered by bad decisions.
Despite having much to say about troubled teenagers and families, The Land is a familiar and pretty ordinary drama. I have always been interested in films about youth culture, and I feel they often don’t get the attention they deserve. I’ve always felt they often occupy the outskirts of cinema, and seem to be overlooked or avoided entirely.
The film is the work of first-time director, Steven Caple Jr., and he hasn’t quite mastered the art of storytelling and creating nuanced and well-developed characters. Cisco is the only character that evolves over the course of the film. Every other character is mostly stagnant and some of them simply aren’t believable enough, particularly the adults, such as Cisco’s careless diner-managing uncle (Kim Coates), and the drug-addicted prostitute (Erykah Badu), who gets involved in their lives. They’re both sketchy and peripheral characters, who only serve the purpose of showing the deep problems in Cisco’s home life.
The lack of plausibility also accompanies the drug queen-pin, Momma. She’s middle-aged woman who isn’t the slightest bit menacing or scary, but is somehow feared and respected in the criminal underworld. It’s a nice attempt at creating an unconventional villain, but let’s be serious here, this just wouldn’t happen in real-life. Simply a ridiculous character that even Tony Award nominated actress, Linda Emond, can’t bring to life.
Contrived characterisation and storytelling diminishes the film’s sense of realism, which is a shame because The Land has a lot going for it, with regards to its dialogue and vivid cinematography. The film has some pacing issues as well, which is born out the lack of focus. It seems like Caple has a lot of ideas but ultimately, struggles to fully express all of them in one film.
However, The Land has a great hip-hop soundtrack, which is one that fans of the genre will love. Caple’s presentation of Cleveland is an impressive facet of the film, as he manages to capture the heart and culture of the city. I personally don’t know much about Cleveland, but it feels like an otherwise modest exploration of the city.
The Land could have been much more impacting if its story was clearer and more concise. However, it’s still an engaging movie that has has plenty of drama to keep you satisfied. It’s a decent urban indie drama, but unfortunately it’s restricted by its unkempt focus. But it does manage to present the distinct message of how easily people, even with good intentions, can fall through the cracks.
Directed and written by: Steven Caple Jr.
Stars: Jorge Lendeborge Jr., Moisés Arias, Linda Emond.
Distributor: IFC Films (USA) (Theatrical)
Run Time: 104 min
You also might be interested in my review of urban comedy film, Dope.