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All Rise (A Movie Review)

Updated: Feb 17, 2020

Kelvin Harrison Jr. in All Rise.

ALL RISE (2019)

Starring Kelvin Harrison Jr., Jennifer Hudson, Jennifer Ehle, Jeffrey Wright, John David Washington, Mikey Madison, Tim Blake Nelson, Paul Ben-Victor, Jonny Coyne, Rakim “ASAP Rocky” Mayers, Jharrel Jerome, Dorian Missick, Lovie Simone, Alejandro Hernandez, Adriana DeGirolami, Willie C. Carpenter, Kelvin Hale and Nasir “Nas” Jones.

Screenplay by Radha Blank, Cole Wiley, Janece Shaffer.

Directed by Anthony Mandler.

Distributed by Entertainment Studios. 98 minutes. Not Rated.

Screened for Cinematters: New York Social Justice Film Festival.

Street life meets courtroom procedural in the slickly filmed, disturbing drama All Rise. (Ironically, it shares the name with a current court-based TV series which also often revolves around racial issues, though the two projects have very different styles and tones.)

This All Rise is based on Monster, the 1999 young adult novella by Walter Dean Myers. (The film was supposed to be called Monster as well but has recently gone through a title change.) It is about life in the turn-of-the millennium, just-starting-to-get-gentrified Harlem.

It is the story of a Harlem teen named Steve Harmon – Kelvin Harrison Jr. is very impressive in the lead role after some very good supporting work. He is arrested with two neighborhood gangbangers in the murder of a local bodega owner. He swears he was not a part of the robbery, but he is still jailed and put on trial.

The DA calls him a monster, but that does not jibe with most of what the audience can tell about the kid. He’s a good student, an aspiring filmmaker, the son of smart and very proper parents. He has no history of violence or crime. He is not a gang member.

So, is Steve just another good black man who is being unfairly prosecuted, or did he really fall in with the wrong crowd and take part in the robbery?

It turns out that he comes out mostly on one side of that question; however, as so often happens, the answer to that question is a little more complicated in real life than it seems on the surface.

All Rise is the first feature film of director Anthony Mandler, who has spent the last two decades doing award-winning commercials and making music videos with just about every major name on the top of the charts. (Rihanna, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, The Jonas Brothers, Justin Bieber, Shakira, Usher, The Killers, Selena Gomez, Nikki Minaj, Drake and Lana Del Rey are just some of the people he has worked with.)

With Mandler’s background, it is not surprising that All Rise has a flashy immediacy and dazzling style. However, the story is rather dark, and he is able to capture that, too.

Part of this comes from the strong acting on display. Beyond Harrison, we have terrific performances by Jeffrey Wright and Jennifer Hudson (who Mandler had worked with on a video, as well) as Steve’s parents, Jennifer Ehle as his lawyer, Tim Blake Nelson as a sympathetic teacher and rappers ASAP Rocky and Nas as local toughs.

All Rise has been making the film festival rounds for a year or two (it debuted at Sundance in 2018) and is soon going to receive a wide release later this year. Hopefully it will capture the audience that it deserves.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2020 All rights reserved. Posted: January 17, 2020.

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