High Stepping Debut: Our Review of ‘Kicks’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - September 22, 2016
High Stepping Debut: Our Review of ‘Kicks’

Even the best of us, can get their priorities a little screwy from time to time.

While not without some flaws, Kicks is an incredibly strong, intelligent debut feature that highlights some of the social misconceptions of status and how equally important and meaningless it all really is.

When you’re 15 years old, things are simple and for Brandon (Jahking Guillory) getting a fresh pair of the hottest sneakers on his feet will cure all his worldly woes and make his existence which is rife with poverty, bullying and neglect simply melt away.  He soon learns that after finally getting them, his problems have just begun as he becomes a target of the local thug Flaco (Kofi Siriboe) and gets subsequently beaten up and his kicks stolen.  He embarks on a dangerous quest to get his shoes back as he goes up against Flaco who has his own demons and cross to bear about living in the hood that puts himself and the lives of his friends in danger.

It’s a simple and stunning story about the social structures that have to be navigated in the ghetto and it marks writer/director Justin Tipping as someone worth paying attention to.

I’ll admit that there are flashes in Kicks that lean way t0o heavily on film school auteurism but he manages to make it all work with a genuine wit and intelligence to it all that allows his characters to feel like they are genuine and have actual depth rather than just being typical story driven stereotypes.  Tipping takes great care in it all as some truly stunning visuals on the concrete jungle that these characters live in along with thunderous music of the streets that marry it all together at every turn.  Sure Tipping falls in love with the style of it all a little too much at times, but that’s also what kind of makes it all work.  It’s the theme of the movie how the flash and superficial nature of status can really be our downfall if taken far too seriously.  There’s no question that Tipping can walk that precarious tightrope that so many other story tellers can’t, as he allows for both style and substance to co-exist in this universe.


A cast with mostly relative unknowns, this couldn’t have worked any differently as it is the kind of story where star power would have distracted from it all.  Had Jaden Smith played the lead, it just wouldn’t have felt believable at any point in the narrative.  We had to believe that these are kids who are trying to navigate life on the streets and survive it the best ways that they possibly can.  Jahking Guillory plays it all with a quiet, unknowing subtlety because he simply doesn’t know any better.  Much like his character he is trying to make his mark and find his manhood in a world where you have to live and die by how ‘hard’ or ‘street’ you are and it makes for a remarkable performance as we see a young actor who could easily carry more films on his own.  He has some solid supporting help including a pivotal turn from the stoic Mahershala Ali who can’t help but command the screen as a veteran street thug trying to steer these kids that come across his path in the right way…no matter what choice they ultimately take.  The film is never about hammering home a message, it’s just about showing us the consequences and results of any action we take, both good and bad.

Kicks is one of those movies that you may not necessarily catch up to during its theatrical run, but you really should.  If only for that discussion you have one night at an Oscar party 10 years from now when you’ll be the only person in the room who has seen the Best Director winner’s debut film.  It’s that kind of film and we will be hearing from the likes of Justin Tipping for quite some time if he keeps making films that are as good as this one is.

  • Release Date: 9/23/2016
This post was written by
David Voigt is a Toronto based writer with a problem and a passion for the moving image and all things cinema. Having moved from production to the critical side of the aisle for well over 10 years now at outlets like Examiner.com, Criticize This, Dork Shelf (Now That Shelf), to.Night Newspaper he’s been all across his city, the country and the continent in search of all the news and reviews that are fit to print from the world of cinema.

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