Imperial Dreams

A 21-year-old reformed gangster's devotion to his family and his future is put to the test when he is released from prison and returns to his old stomping grounds in Watts, Los Angeles.

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  • ★★★★ review by tia on Letterboxd

    MY LONGEST YEAH BOYEGA EVER

  • ★★★★ review by river on Letterboxd

    funny how some people sleep on their backs, some people on their side and yall sleep on john boyega

  • ★★★★ review by Llewyn on Letterboxd

    john is amazing but I'm depressed

  • ★★★½ review by Steve P on Letterboxd

    Star Wars 40th Anniversary Hunt

    Film - 1/42

    Task 35 - A film starring John Boyega

    So the Star Wars Scavenger Hunt has begun. I'm going to save the Star Wars films themselves for the run up to Episode 8, so I'm going to tackle some of the peripheral tasks first. First up a film starring John Boyega. 

    Before starring in Episode 7 and after Attack the Block, John Boyega starred in Malik Vitthal's Imperial Dreams. Boyega plays 21 year old Bambi Jones, fresh out of prison and trying to keep on the right side of the law and raise his son Daytone. Unfortunately the bureaucratic system is stacked against him. He can't get a job because he doesn't have a Drivers Licence. The DMV won't give him his Licence back because the state sued him for child support while he was incarcerated, to the tune of $15,000. He can't pay it without getting a job...

    He and his son can't stay with their family. All the tenancy agreements have strict guidelines on  NO convicted felons allowed. He and his son have to resort to nights sleeping in his beat up car, because of this Child Services are on his case and looking to take his son.

    He has a glimmer of hope from his creative outlet, writing. He even managed to get a short piece published in McSweeney’s while incarcerated. An agent is looking for a publisher of his work but will that pay off? In the meantime he has to resist the temptation of easy money that crime can provide.

    The impossible situation facing those released from prison isn't exactly new territory in film. As Bambi muses "How am I gonna rehabilitate if they won’t rehabilitate me?". It's nice to know we suck at it both sides of the pond. 

    Occasionally the script is too unsubtle and bludgeons the points home when finesse is required. The dialogue falls a bit flat in places and there is a failure to really ratchet up the tension in the situation. It's brief runtime also leaves a few plot threads hanging. It does feel fresh to have a convicted felon resolutely refuse to fall back into the life of crime and this is a very effective character study. This is mostly due to the film's biggest asset, Boyega. His natural, empathetic performance immediately draws you in. He manages to find a way to show Bambi's internal conflict of either struggling on the straight and narrow or turning to the easier path of crime. He creates a very real character here, a character you really become invested in and want to succeed.

    I really wasn't a fan of the repetitive ambient score. It seemed to be in a perpetual state of developing into something bigger but then going nowhere. The debut direction on the other hand shows Vitthal has real promise. A great debut.

  • ★★★½ review by Kevin Jones on Letterboxd

    2017 Ranked

    Telling the story of a paroled convict that returns home in the inner city to his parentless son (his mother got locked up as well), Imperial Dreams shows the walls built around the inner city by "the system" to keep the impoverished locked inside. Broke and required to get a job to stay out of jail, he needs his driver's license. However, he does not have it and cannot get it because of backdue child support. While his baby mother did not file for it, it had been filed on her behalf. To pay-off the child support, he needs a job. He also needs a job to get an apartment because he and his son live in his car. Unfortunately, he needs an apartment to keep his son from social services. Now, naturally, all of this could be fixed by getting a job. Unfortunately, the cycle merely starts again. The only way to get out is to take his Uncle's offer of driving a car full of Oxycontin from Los Angeles to Portland for $4,000. Imperial Dreams asks the question; how can a man change if there are no ways for him to change?

    Starring John Boyega, the film was shot in 2014 and really shows Boyega debuting the skill that landed him a role in Star Wars. Raw, powerful, and excellently displaying the conflict experienced by a man who wants to change and tries to escape by writing (even going as far as dropping off pages to be read by a publisher), but has to climb such a high wall to escape that it is nearly impossible. This is a situation where this man cannot be expected to do anything different, yet the constant presence of police, his parole officer, and social services weigh on him and force him into action even when it is impossible. Even worse, his Uncle Shrimp (Glenn Plummer) is a destructive force that pulls him back into the hood whenever it seems he may be able to get out. This is a tragic film bolstered by Boyega's performance that is emotionally raw, honest, and the right balance between moving and tough due to the demands of the character and his environment.

    Well-written, Imperial Dreams' biggest issue is that it is simply not the first film to touch on these topics. Better films have come out and shown the strife in the inner city and how hard it is to make it out alive and come out ahead in the end. While the film is bolstered by Boyega's tour de force performance, the rest of it is pretty much a run-of-the-mill film about the inner city. From dead relatives, deadbeat parents, and troubling influences, there is not much light in this film, but also not much originality. It is as if Imperial Dreams just worked off of a checklist to make sure it got all of the stereotypical inner city characters before sending the film off for post-production. It is this reliance upon cliches that really holds the film back and never really lets it soar as possible.

    That said, the film's crushing weight really speaks to how hard it is to get out of the hood. The second things look up for Bambi (Boyega), something goes wrong. There is this inevitability to the film that is really heart breaking. No matter what goes right, we know that in the end, Bambi will wind up back in a life of crime that he can never escape. No matter how hard he works. No matter where he turns. This is his life and nothing can change that, not even sheer will. This is really tragic to watch unfold and it is this emotional core and sense that things never change, just the faces, is really what makes Imperial Dreams click.

    Though cliche and too willing to just rely upon stock characters, Imperial Dreams features an impeccable lead performance from John Boyega in a tragic and often hard to watch film that shows a man that, no matter what he does, will never achieve his dreams. If one thing goes right, three things go wrong. He cannot escape this life and keeps getting pulled back down by people who do not want to see him escape and leave them all behind. Well-written and powerfully acted, Imperial Dreams shines a light on a topic that all too often goes untouched. Though it invokes inner city cliches in the process, it is hard to deny that this film is imperative to watch and one that does an excellent job creating empathy for people stuck in a no-win situation. In many ways, it feels like a gambling movie, except Bambi and others have addiction or choice. Instead, they just keep losing.

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