Rob Reviews "A Thousand And One"
Writer/director A.V. Rockwell’s feature film debut, A Thousand and One, is one of those films that is one that feels like anything but a debut. Her past has been in shorts and music videos along with a bit of television, but her scope and depth in this film is nothing short of impressive.
She works with a group of relative unknowns here, and that benefits the film in multiple ways. Teyana Taylor plays Inez de la Paz, a 22-year-old woman in 1994 who has just gotten released from Riker’s Island and is trying to make her way in the outside world as a hairdresser. While staying at a shelter, she sees the son she left behind in foster care and makes the conscious decision to take things into her own hand by illegally removing him from his foster home so they can start their lives together. Spanning the next eleven years, she and her son, Terry, face the real world with the choices they make in a New York City that changes almost as rapidly as the story itself.
I don’t really want to go too far into this script due to its complexities and movements in narrative. It truly is best to go into A Thousand and One as cold as possible in order to walk this path right along with the characters on the screen. Instead, I would like to focus on this AMAZING cast. Taylor is captivating as Inez, a woman that is trying to get past who she has been to be the mother she believes she can be while trying to evade the authorities that would break up her little family if discovered. With a number of figures that come in and out of their lives paralleled by the changes their city goes through that both directly and indirectly affect them gives more layers to their triumphs AND their struggles. Terry is played by three different actors due to the timeline, and they are all absolutely amazing. Aaron Kingsley Adetola, Aven Courtney, and Josiah Cross play him at 6, 13, and 17 years old (respectively), and each of them bring the same gravitas to a young man that understands the gravity of the situation with an innocence of a child that just wants to belong that even sells the continuity of the character to each other. William Catlett also shines as Lucky, the man who is in the middle of it all on multiple levels, even within himself.
This is all paired with a story that had me fully engaged once it kicked into motion. Granted, it does take a bit for that to happen, but once it does the level of gritty and intense takes off just as quickly. There were a number of moments where I was literally on the edge of my seat, leaning forward as if to focus that much more on what was happening as well as trying to anticipate what was coming next.
I love the fact that the first quarter of the calendar year is getting farther and farther away from the “studio dumping ground” that it has been for many years and is moving towards delivering quality cinema year-round. The only downside here is that in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world, a film like A Thousand and One can get lost in the shuffle at year’s end. My hope here is that enough discussion for this film can be generated to keep that buzz going as long as humanly possible.