Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 45 min.
Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 1; Language 2; Sex/Nudity
Our star rating (1-5): 4.5
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
I’m probably too old to be familiar with Hip-hop recording artist Boots Riley, but you can bet that I will be following from now on his career as a movie director. His debut film is as creative and thought-provoking regarding racism and the place of the black male in our society as was last year’s Get Out. Directing his own script, Riley focuses upon the rise and fall in Oakland, California of the 30-something Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield), who seems to me to be a black version of the conman Prof. Harold Hill of The Music Man—his nickname is “Cash,” from Cassius Green. (Try repeating the latter rapidly and see what it sounds like— “Cash is Green.”)
The film begins as a satire of office life and racism that then takes up the theme of betrayal and selling out. Cassius shows up for a job interview with RegalView, a telemarketing firm operating out of a basement. To bolster his (non)credentials, he brings along an obviously bogus trophy and an employee-of-the-month plaque. Despite this, he is hired because this slimy outfit will hire anyone who can read a script.
During his first day Cassius is unable to deliver his spiel before a prospect hangs up on him, and then veteran salesman Langston (Danny Glove) gives him the advice that launches his rise to the top, “Use your white voice.” He does, and “Cash” is soon awash in “green” and being promoted to a top floor populated by ace sellers to work for the parent company known as Worry Free. Here he becomes embroiled with the sleazy founder of the company Steve Lift (Armie Hammer)
In the meantime, his girl Detroit (Tessa Thompson), an aspiring artist, and best friend Salvador (Jermaine Fowler) are also working in the boiler room. When the employees decide to campaign for better wages, Cash must decide—to accept all the wealth and perks Steve Lift blandishes before him, or to stay loyal to his less fortunate friends.
The film plunges into the bizarre sci-fi/horror genre when at a wild party thrown by Lift, Cash stumbles upon a strange genetic experiment the CEO has set up to produce an ideal type of worker who will never rebel and ask for better pay or working conditions. This is when we realize that we have entered Get Out territory.
The last half of the film, in which Cash is offered a devil’s deal by Worry Free’s CEO Steve Lift, reminded me of the third temptation in Matthew’s account Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, as well as the opening line of the hymn based on a James Russell Lowell poem— “Once to every man and nation/Comes the moment to decide/In the strife of truth with falsehood/For the good or evil side…” Though there is plenty to discuss in this racially relevant film, the average religious group might have trouble getting past the language and drug use. The telling scene in which the all-white party attenders pressure Cash to rap, on the assumption that all blacks can dance and break out in rhyme, and he in turn gets them to…well, this film might be something that young adults can best handle.
This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the August 2018 issue of Visual Parables.