This critic, I’m afraid, simply did not like Chris Browne’s Ghett’a Life, giving it only two stars, which stand for “watchable.” Pity. I haven’t seen it yet, and look forward to seeing it and disagreeing (hopefully) with this review. The film just opened in the UK.
It’s been twelve years since Chris Browne’s previous feature third world cop was released, and the filmmaker, who wrote, directed and produced Ghett’a Life, will undoubtedly be delighted with the praise and acclaim his latest feature has received. Ghett’a Life is billed as Jamaica’s latest blockbuster, with the aim of putting Caribbean cinema on the map – certainly helped along by its double success at Cannes Film Festival, winning the Hartley Merrill International Screenplay Award in 2006, and furthering such success by picking up the Best Pitch Award at 2011’s event.
Set within turbulent Kingston, Jamaica, we witness a divided community, set apart by political and gang warfare, especially prominent with local elections pending. Derrick (Kevoy Burton) is at the heart of the conflict, with his older brother murdered and his father Lenford (Carl Davis) a keen supporter of the local party; derrick’s allegiances are loyal to his roots. However, once he stumbles across a boxing gym on the wrong side of town, suddenly perspective strikes as he contemplates fulfilling his dreams of becoming a successful boxer, amidst the prohibited location of the gym.
Much to the displeasure of his parents and best friend, Big Toe (O’Daine Clarke), Derrick looks past the political barriers set against him, as he defiantly decides to begin a career in boxing, as he manages to comprehend the futility behind the divided community, and seeks to not only become a champion boxer, but to bring Kingston together as one.
However, with such an insubordinate and valiant decision come repercussions, as Derrick soon finds out that the peaceful future he foresees may be more difficult to achieve than he envisaged, particularly with merciless criminal don son’s (Chris McFarlane) involvement in the matter…
Despite the potential in the premise to the film, a few too many clichés and idealisms within the script and storyline unfortunately surrender Browne’s feature to the world cinema scrapheap.
There is a distinct lack of depth in any of the characters, and amidst the life-changing and significant decisions derrick must face, they seem to be met with an insipidness deeming them inconsequential, dissolving any emotional impact. The acting itself is credible, but there remains a lack of profundity in the lead roles, prohibiting the audience from feeling any emotional attachment to the characters or story.
The story itself also becomes increasingly idealistic. Derrick manages to rise to boxing stardom with little justification, at one point representing Jamaica. The audience is not witness to his rise in fame and success, as the film moves along at too much of a fast pace, working through so many dramatic occurrences that they almost blend into one and become indefinable.
The boxing itself is also unrealistic, a surprise given that former world heavyweight champion boxer Lennox Lewis is one of the producers. You would think that having him on board would at least secure realism within such scenes, but they too suffer from the general theme of improbability that the film fails to shake off.
The film also suffers in a visual sense, given the vibrancy of the aesthetic. The story portrayed is gritty and desolate, yet the conflict of vibrant colours makes the film quite difficult to figure out. It’s incredibly colourful and often seems more like a children’s television show than an action-drama. It appears too glorified to be gritty, and over-exaggerates in almost every aspect when it doesn’t actually need to. Although such vivaciousness is perhaps what sets it apart from other action-dramas, certainly providing the feature with a Caribbean feeling, this isn’t Cool Runnings, and would benefit from a dimmer, gloomier aesthetic.
It’s an honest and unassuming piece of filmmaking, but some pictures simply do not translate well to other countries.
The music is also guilty of being too sensational and incredibly corny. Although struggling to earn a reputable status within film, Jamaica can boast an amazing array of musical talent, and it is disappointing not to see this exploited within the film. Instead, the music selected was more similar to an afternoon soap opera on a channel no-one has ever heard of, treating the audience as if they are dense, as the soundtrack over-exaggerates every emotion portrayed.
The music is too generic and banal, highlighted most significantly in the fighting scenes. When Derrick hits an opponent to the ground, a terrible guitar piece kicks in signifying his success. There is also the predictable slow motion voice at one stage, as Browne almost seems intent on making his film as clichéd and hackneyed as possible.
However, when looking more into the fun, less trivial aspects to the feature, there are certainly positives to be found. The film is quite amusing and unpretentious, although whether or not this is the filmmaker’s aim is debatable. The initial story also held much promise, the hard-hitting themes of gang warfare and politics in Jamaica, and how they prevent a young boy living his dream, is potentially intriguing, yet what transpires in unfulfilling.
It’s an honest and unassuming piece of filmmaking, but some pictures simply do not translate well to other countries, and although this may be a hit in Jamaica, it doesn’t appear to have the credentials to be a success across the Atlantic – it’s a little too passé, feeling almost as if it were made in the early 1990s.
Ghett’a life simply stumbles on the most formulaic and fundamental of filmmaking criteria, with a mediocre script, a rather embellished mise-en-scene, and uninspiring performances.
For the original report go to http://www.subtitledonline.com/reviews/ghett%E2%80%99a-life