Five Star screens on April 24 at 4:30 p.m. at A/perture 2, April 25 at 4:30 p.m. at UNCSA Gold and April 26 at 10:30 a.m. at UNCSA Main as part of RiverRun International Film Festival in Winston-Salem. Director Keith Miller will be in attendance for all screenings.
by Jordan Green
Moving at the languid speed of life with halting dialogue and lingering shots, the story of Piru Bloods leader Primo and pupil John Diaz carries the cinéma vérité feel of a documentary.
Indeed, Primo is played by the real-life Blood James “Primo” Grant; John Diaz is played by the real-life John Diaz, and rapper Marvin Bernard, aka Tony Yayo, plays himself, in this piece of audacious filmmaking, which intentionally blurs the line between fiction and reality.
The stifling heat of a summer in Brooklyn’s Walt Whitman Homes is apparent from the opening shot, in which Primo drives a car through the night while lamenting to an unseen passenger that he was locked up when his youngest son was born. As one would expect from someone who runs a street-level drug crew where violence is a necessity for enforcing business terms, brutality comes in quick, unexpected flashes. But Primo is a family man, doting on his children with paternal concern while worrying about their financial security, not unlike an HVAC repairman sweating out survival.
John Diaz is similarly compelling as a teenager fumbling through the paces of first love and weighing his choices for becoming a man and a provider. The recent shooting death of Diaz’s father, revered by Primo and other street toughs, hangs over the narrative as an uncomfortable question mark.
The choices that the two men make — Primo as a maturing gang leader who is trying to secure a decent life for his family, and John as a young man struggling with the contradiction of his father’s legacy — propel the film in unexpected directions. On first view, the conclusion of this unflinching film seems somewhat off. But the ambiguous, unsettled feeling that remains after the screen goes dark ultimately underscores an important truth: Tensions between respect and mercy as well as consequences and forgiveness are never fully resolved. Primo, John and young men like them continually push forward, try to do the best for their families while sometimes making bad choices, with periodic casualties. La lucha continua.
Five Star, dir. Keith Miller, 82 min., 2014