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Review: All Day and a Night Is Flawed But Thought Provoking

May 1, 2020
7 min read

The film ‘All Day and a Night,’ directed by Joe Robert Cole, is a crime drama that hinges on drugs, violence, and a transcendental vision. The film set predominantly amidst Oakland is a narrative account of a man named Jahkor (Ashton Sanders), who has it in him to see his own life from a distance.  Though the narrative falters here and there, the message is deep and has a definite takeaway. It shows not only oppression against members of the Black community but also oppression within the community with no way out.

All Day and a Night Plot

The film begins as Jahkor, often called Jah, shoots a gangster named Malcolm and his child’s mother. This leads him to prison, where he meets his father, who was convicted several years ago for possession and consumption of hard drugs. As a result, Jah is forced to re-live his childhood, whose main memories include the abuse he received at the hands of his father and the two close friends he made: TQ and Lamark.

The narrative is not linear and constantly shifts between three time zones. Jah’s childhood, the months leading up to his arrest for Malcolm’s murder and his days in prison. Growing up, Jah learned the essential survival skills necessary for his neighborhood. Though he is passionate about rap, his rap music is hardly ever taken seriously. Jah’s girlfriend becomes pregnant with his child. This leads him to find a regular store job instead of his usual business of mugging people. However, racial discrimination forces him out, and he makes a deal with Stunna, the boss of a gang, to take out his rival, Malcolm. As shown in the beginning, this doesn’t turn out well for Jah. 

The twist in the plot is when, towards the end, TQ’s secrets are learned by Jah. TQ was working as a snitch for Malcolm thought he was pretty close to Stunna, his rival. In a mission to wipe out Jah, TQ is forced to enter prison on the orders of Malcolm’s gang. Jah, who already knew what was coming, stabs TQ before he could be attacked on prison grounds. In the end, Jah finally meets his son, girlfriend, and mother, hoping to be a better father than his own one. As the film edges to its close, he can be seen planting a sapling with his father in prison.

All Day and a Night Review 

The film ‘All Day and a Night’ more or less does justice to the themes it undertakes. The film’s strong suit lies in its protagonist, who is subtly different from the rest of his crowd. Immersed in the slang of the local Black neighborhood, the film digs deep into the psyche of Jah, who had to learn harsh survival skills growing up. Jah is the exception to the norm as he stands out as a perceptive young man of a few words. Clad in a big hoodie, with observant eyes, he perceives the world through a lens that holds much wisdom. While his actions are forced to gel with the crowd, his thoughts are too philosophical to fit in.

The film stresses this point through the internal monologue that Jah has, which also comes across as a voice-over to his own story. The attempt is noteworthy, as it shows the dual personality of its character, who has little to no control over how his life will pan out, especially in the clutches of ‘generational fallacy’ as he puts it. Though he wants to get out of the stereotype his father has followed, he ends up reaching right there. He does make certain choices on his own accord to head there, but the film interestingly shows his helplessness as well, mainly through his anger, desperation, and hope.

Roots of Racial Tension

The film’s central theme is in how being members of the African American community; there is a particular descent that the community is not able to overcome. Especially, when they belong to a specific neighborhood, that has set itself in one violent vicious circle. The cycle is so aggressively repetitive that no one can escape it. Jah’s observation, along with his story, sheds very specific examples of it.

The first case is that of his dad, who we are made to see as a good for nothing abusing drunk, who is constantly high on cocaine. While this is the case most of the time, one day, he gets drunk and tells Jah that he should be the kind of man his mom wants him to be. The type that goes to church, is educated and takes up a real job that doesn’t involve holding a gun against someone’s head. Though this statement came out as a slip of error, this is what he deeply wishes for his son. But, drenched in the violent reality of his neighborhood, he beats his son up to make him stronger.

The second case is that of Lamark, Jah’s best friend, who joins the US army. Growing up, all he ever wanted was to go away from this life of abuse, violence, and drugs. Though he manages to do it, he is forced to return wounded. The government doesn’t provide him with the necessary care he needs and is, in the end, doubtful if he’ll ever walk again. This addresses the systemic form of racism that may still be prevalent.

The final one is where black men in such social strata are stuck to an endless loop in which they are faced with violence from childhood, have fewer expectations for themselves, steal and kill to put food in their families’ bellies and in the end, spends the rest of their life in prison. Though there are various reasons and exceptions to such a life, the film sums it up powerfully, in one sentence: “Slavery taught black people to survive but not to live.”

The back end of such a life is where the women are then the sole breadwinners of their families, living most often without a husband, dedicated to the needs of their children. The film, through Jah, illustrates the same through his grandmother, mother, and girlfriend.

Flatlines

The film makes quite the effort with its themes, its characters’ struggles, and its non-linearly effective narrative. However, it falls flat on several occasions to keep the momentum of interest. The film builds up quite stunningly promising its audience some remarkable takeaway, while it does manage to fulfill these expectations, remarkable is perhaps a few notches behind. The overall idea and framework are well executed but the connection from scene to scene misses certain fluency. This is more evident in the ending. While suspense does a plot well, it doesn’t feel like that for this film. In the end, TQ coming in to kill Jah is disconnected on multiple levels. The lack of emotions and lead up from TQ’s side, a bad scene of stabbing that is soon over, doesn’t really do justice to the film.

In totality, while the themes, its narrative, and plot structure are impressive, the connecting dots aren’t. Nonetheless, the film is appreciable for its original insights and interpretations.

Rating: 3/5

Read More: Filming Locations of All Day and a Night 

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