This film is rooted in the activism of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign. Within the film are the stories of several Philadelphia residents, told in sporadic vignettes that are loosely tied together by a mysterious flier that is being handed out in the neighbourhood. While some characters cross into other’s stories they mainly stay separated until the very final scene which reveals that the flier was out promote a rally on behalf of the aforementioned Campaign.
Some of the characters are attempting to improve themselves, others merely trying to get by. All of them bounce between entering depression or trouble to finding new leases on life. Though some spiral very near rock bottom, there is a definite optimism that is perpetual and drives them all.
There are also flashes of a painting that features all of the main characters, but it goes against continuity for the painter’s story gives no evidence as to how she might know the other characters unless she somehow shared the audiences point-of-view, which she does not. At first, I found myself searching for those threads, such as this painting, that would unite everyone. Perhaps it was the film’s efforts to make a statement while showing the everyday dramas of city people that made me expect something like Paul Haggis’ Crash. As the stories progress and define themselves as independent of each other (until the very end) I became all the more immersed in them. The biggest emotional moments are left to the biggest stars of the film, namely Rosario Dawson as a mother and Paul Dano as a friend to a sick young child. By the end, some of the stories appear more superfluous but the film’s short length insists that none overstay their welcome too badly.
Widescreen 16:9 Enhanced. Sometimes all of the colours in the frame are vibrant while other times everything appears bleached and fuzzy. This effect is used mainly around the character of Babo in an attempt to give him a more angelic appearance so that his actions of peace, love and, eventually, martyrdom become more profound.
There is a scene in a park that is so sunny that the actor’s reflection in the camera lens appears like a ghost following them (which is a pinch spooky since the characters are actually discussing the idea of ghosts…which is pure coincidence).
The ending rally is in a shaky and hazy digital film. Obviously Writer/Director Mark Webber captured the actors in a real act of activism instead of staging one, which makes for a more positive message in the end.
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround. There are some issues with the balance between music and the dialogue. The film’s slow pace means many moments of silence or low talking which can be interrupted by surprising loud music since the cuts are random, with no pattern to discern which character’s story we are to follow next. Otherwise, the quality is fine.
Subtitles available in English and Spanish.
Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign Outreach: A written action statement of the various beliefs and components of this activist group. It is is good information for those that want to understand the film maker’s presumed motivations more but the text itself is hard to read, largely because it is an orange fond on a nearly orange background. It would have been much nicer to have some interviews or other video clips to accompany the text so that the message could be better understood as well as better understanding the motives of the film and how it came to be.
The stories have a natural bit of pretension but overall are well composed and performed. The cast is mainly made up of child actors, and they do well keeping up with some of the more seasoned adult actors (though this is a rather young cast all in all). The last half of the film is more geared towards the anti-poverty/pro-health care message and the end, making the first half’s build-up seem a tad unnecessary. This slight imbalance in dramatic handling makes it hard for me to make my mind up fully about how I feel since there are some very fine moments within. In the end, people will take a positive message away from this film that without being bombarded by urban philosophy or dramatic pandering.