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

  • ★★★½ review by What I Watched Tonight on Letterboxd

    “Your heart says, ‘Don’t kill’. The hood says, ‘Kill’.”



    Watts, Los Angeles is the backdrop for Malik Vitthal’s stark drama, Imperial Dreams, in which a recently paroled young black man attempts to integrate himself back into a society that is seemingly designed to prevent just that, whilst also trying to raise his young son in the bleakness. Staying on the right path is the easy part, it’s the mountain of precarious obstacles that’s the crushing issue.



    Free from incarceration, wannabe-poet Bambi (Boyega) is determined to get his life on track and provide a better life for his four-year-old son, Day (Justin and Ethan Coach). Bambi’s Uncle Shrimp (Plummer) provides a quick and easy way to earn some good money – illegally trafficking drugs across state lines. Bambi refuses, but his efforts to obtain employment and cash are hampered by the fact he hasn’t got a driver’s license. The DMV inform him he can’t get a license unless he pays off the $15,000 child support the government filed whilst he was in jail. So, how does that work? Additionally, he can’t move in with his (more successful) brother Wayne (Akinosho) as the state doesn’t allow ex-cons to take up residence on their premises. Sleeping in a car – with towels across the window – each night, Bambi struggles to reconcile the predicament he and Day find themselves in. Unfortunately for him, child services are doing that work for him, and with gangs rife across the estate, Bambi has to use all of his resolve to keep the pair of them safe.



    Grounded, understated and sharp, Imperial Dreams provides a clear statement on the issues facing ex-cons and their integration back into society, the baffling hindrances they face, policing attitudes and the ever-so-near danger of re-offending. Malik Vitthal’s impressive debut is bleak and immersive in its depiction of the struggles, the streets and the danger around every corner. Shot on the Imperial Courts, Watts, LA, the movie has an almost documentary feel to it at times due to the authentic presentation. The Courts themselves are ominously shot, large buildings overlook discreet corners where something unsavoury generally lurks. There’s a filtered look to the day scenes, as if even the sun is struggling to uplift the predicament. At night, the dusky lighting only adds to the underlying fear of the unseen.



    John Boyega shines in the lead role as the resolute, caring Bambi. Embodying the internal and external struggles, he sells the performance credibly and the natural chemistry with the Coach twins, as Day, is affectingly well delivered. The talented supporting cast all ably supports Boyega’s efforts, including a menacing turn from Glenn Plummer as the crooked Uncle Shrimp.



    With a snug runtime (86 minutes), Imperial Dreams doesn’t have time to allow its story to drag or become over-saturated. It does at times feels too fast, as major plot points race by as the next one begins, however, whilst occasionally being problematic, it seemed to add to the urgency and growing sense of chaos that was unfolding. It’s well-written also for the vast majority, Boyega given some fantastic soliloquies to narrate the deeper issues at stake and they’re almost poetic in their excellence. Counter to that, at times his dialogue is expository and unnecessarily so, as the performances or scene aptly describes/presents the situation. Vitthal does well to generally avoid the gang cliché that suffocates similar movies, though when the moments do creep in, they generally feel at odds with the rest of the move tonally (the drive-by being the key example).



    Imperial Dreams succeeds when it remains a deep character study with Bambi circumventing the bureaucratic jungle, the tense, fraught relationship with his family and his warm relationship with his son. It’s the latter that provides the heart and soul of the movie, making every bump in the road more aching as Day is exposed to rejection and street violence on a daily basis.



    As debuts go, Imperial Dreams is a solid effort. It’s well-written, well-shot and well-acted, with Boyega again proving he has a bright future ahead of him. Whilst not spectacular, it’s hard-hitting, affecting and well worth your time.

  • ★★★★ 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.

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