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  • Wendy Shreve

GULLY REACHES FOR THE SKY

Men can starve from a lack of self-realization as much as they can from a lack of bread.

--Richard Wright


When you envision the worst neighborhoods in Los Angeles, what do you see? Dilapidated tenements, dirt-ridden slums or gangs walking the streets? Director Nabil Elderkin's Gully (2021) opens with our narrator standing in the ocean, taking in the azure water; clear blue sky. A panoramic view of a neighborhood with clean streets and pastel-colored houses captures our attention. Once the scope adjusts, however, gritty elements come to light.


Three teenage friends, Nicky, Calvin and Jesse depend on each other for emotional support. Each has had their childhoods taken from them--drugs, abuse and mental illness robbed them of a chance for a future. Neither sees a color divide, Nicky being white while the other two are black or other differences. Jesse, the narrator, happens to be unable to speak. The reason for his selective mutism becomes clear soon enough; but of the trio, he has the inner strength the other two lack. And though he understands his two friends are potentially volatile, he remains loyal.


In the same neighborhood, Greg, has just been released from prison. A father figure to the friends, he must now spend much of his time acclimating to being free. Still, he tries to be there for Calvin and Jesse especially. It's not enough. Like an unchecked boiling pot of water, one fateful night the young men let loose, their anger overflows. Two of them get burned for their behavior.


Director Elderkin, making his feature film debut, comes from a music video background. He wisely doesn't allow the visual to dominate the storytelling or character studies. What's missing comprises more explanatory dialogue, scenes to aid in understanding the boys' difficult pasts, i.e. their back stories. The plot ebbs and flows like the ocean tide. When the storm, the film's climax, hits us, however, we become immersed in tragedy.


All the actors contribute significant facets to the story. Kelvin Harrison, Jr. (Jesse), Jacob Latimore (Calvin) and Charlie Plummer (Nicky) portray the three boys. Jonathan Majors (Greg) as the ex-con, Amber Heard (Joyce) an addict, Robin Givens (Irma) a helpless single mother, John Corbett (Mr. Charlie) the worst "parent" imaginable, and Terence Howard (Mr. Christmas) complete the excellent cast.


Gully reminds viewers that appearances not only deceive, they hide terrible secrets. For victimized children, an unforgiving society, lack of resources only starves them of a chance to feed their emotional hunger.


Rated R for language, violence (including abuse), and drug use (including smoking).


Opening June 4 in select theaters and VOD/digital June 8.



Earlier reviews are also available on https://www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/wendy-shreve/movies


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