Director: Rick Famuyiwa
Cast: Shameik Moore, Zoe Kravitz, Forest Whitaker, A$AP Rocky
Running time: 106 minutes
Release Date: 4th September
Somewhere around the midpoint of the 200os, hip hop changed. Some attribute it to the emergence of Kanye West and a new breed of backpacker MCs who were less fixated on the familiar tropes of gangster rap that had bogged down the genre for the previous decade, others say it was down to the advent of the internet and the rise of social media, regardless of what the catalyst was, one thing was for sure: nothing was the same. The youths who populate writer/director Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope have come-of-age in this internet obsessed, post Odd Future world and are intent on sidestepping whatever stereotypes society might have foisted upon them.
Malcolm is a young man from a poor, crime-filled neighbourhood, raised by a single mother who dreams of escaping to a better life. On paper, this might sound like the beginnings of another cliché-riddled “hood” film straight out of the John Singleton handbook, but Famuyiwa is all too aware of the pitfalls of the genre and instead delivers a sharp, stylish and highly entertaining picture that gleefully subverts all that is expected of it.
Set amidst the sun-bleached alleyways of Inglewood, California, we follow Malcolm (Shameik Moore) and his misfit friends Jib (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) as they navigate their last few weeks of high school and try to make it to college. The trio find themselves shaken from their own self-contained universe of Golden Age hip hop, indie rock and straight As when Malcolm is invited along to local drug dealer Dom’s (A$AP Rocky) birthday party and a large quantity of narcotics somehow finds its way into his possession. What follows is a breakneck ride through modern Los Angeles with the gang encountering stoners, rich kids and gang bangers as they try to offload the drugs before it is too late.
Dope is obsessed with the zeitgeist – Bitcoin, the Dark Web and Find My iPhone all feature as plot devices – but the film is just as interested in the past as it is the future. The main characters are fascinated with 90’s culture and Famuyiwa is equally indebted to the independent films of that decade. The fingerprints of ‘90s auteurs such as Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino and the Hughes Brothers are all over film, but it might be Doug Liman’s 1999 film Go that Dope resembles most closely with its breakneck plot, clever twists and highly-stylized direction.
The film wisely avoids the temptation to begin moralising in its final third and instead shifts the blame for its protagonist’s dalliances with crime onto society at large. Much credit must be given to Shameik Moore, whose performance anchors the film and keeps Malcolm relatable and worthy of empathy throughout. Dope is a fun, fresh and effortlessly cool film that, most importantly, has something to say.