In Imperial Dreams, John Boyega isn’t a stormtrooper batting heads with Kylo Ren. Instead, the pre-Star Wars Boyega plays an ex-con named Bambi, on route to redemption.
Sharing the same name as a certain Disney character, you’d think he wouldn’t stand a chance in the world of crime. But he’s been to prison and back. Recently paroled, Bambi is a changed man and wants to do right by himself and his young son.
A slice of urban drama
When it comes to making a crime drama in an urban setting, there’s a hell of a lot of cliches to avoid. While stereotypical hood characters run riot, first-time director Malik Vitthal manages to skirt the biggest cliche of them all, by having its main protagonist reject that one last job.
Yes, Bambi wants to turn his life around and get his son out of their violent neighbourhood. He’s driven by morals and is a keen writer, eager to get a story published. This film never goes in the direction you expect.
Bambi could take the easy way out, as a window of opportunity to make illegal cash opens in front of him. His horrible uncle Shrimp (Glenn Plummer) is a hardened criminal and a problem in Bambi’s life. The film is essentially a showcase for Boyega, who delivers a quality performance. From hard-hitting and poignant drama, he is convincing in all parts.
An authentic vision
Just like Boyega’s performance, Vitthal’s film has very naturalistic direction. I’ve never stepped foot in LA, but it’s easy to get immersed in this detailed world, from wailing sirens and barking dogs to the various people wandering the streets.
This inner city neighbourhood feels distinct and real. Vitthal doesn’t hold back in showing us an economically deprived section of LA. It’s portrayed as a constant nightmare, which Bambi is desperate to escape. You can’t help feel sorry for the guy, especially since he’s raising a child with no mother on the scene, so his son is completely dependent on him.
Imperial Dreams is full of heart and grit. It’s a film made with the intention of delivering moralistic messages, however simple they may be.
Sometimes the simplest films can be the most effective. Imperial Dreams captures something very honest and sincere. I enjoyed this film a lot and it’s currently on Netflix, so give it a watch if you can. Its nicely crafted story, good performances and different approach to a familiar set-up make it highly compelling.
Quoted: “You call your son Angel Boy cause in the bricks, the softer the name, the harder the man.”
Directed and written by: Malik Vitthal
Stars: John Boyega, Rotimi Akinosho, Keke Palmer.
Run Time: 87 min