As far as first impressions go, Dope does well to catch you off guard. From the very first moment, it is clear that this film is wholly original and offers a fresh format that keeps you wanting more. This is not your typical “teen drug movie”. Young Shameik Moore manages to fit into his role, almost too perfectly, transcends simply convincing and takes us straight to caring in a matter of minutes. Rick Famuyiwa who wrote and directed the film comes correct with a film that very well might be his crowning achievement.
Our story follows young Malcolm, a 90’s hip-hop geek who is just trying to survive his less than desirable living situation. While at a party, someone manages to put something “extra” in his bag which causes a slippery slope of events to unfold. Accompanied by his fellow geek friends, he needs to find a way to fix his predicament; ultimately he is forced to sell the drugs that were forcibly given to him. The question becomes can Malcolm make it out of this situation without both losing his chances for a future and losing who he is as a person.
As cliche as the plot comes off on paper I can assure you it’s wildly entertaining and thought-provoking along the way. With just the right amount of originality and subtextual plotlines, this film seemed to come out of nowhere, and I do not think anyone expected the result to be so great. This, in large part, stems from the perfect choices made for this film. Shameik Moore (Malcolm) just plain delivers, and his ability to fit into the 90’s hip-hop culture is astounding. The film is written well, with a story that keeps you interested for its entirety. While Famuyiwa may not have done anything noteworthy at this point in his career, I, for one, will definitely be looking out for his next writing project.
The Film 4.5/5
At the time of filming, Rachel Morrison had managed to make a name for herself in thought provoking and independent filming. She has a way of capturing the essence of characters in an incredible way. The most notable film is Fruitvale Station. Now what we have with Dope is by and large a different direction. Famuyiwa’s vision for an original teen coming of age story with a twist is brought to life using various techniques that separate it from any other tale of growing up. Shot using an Arri Alexa, the interesting use of side-by-side in the moment shots is fitting and keeps our story moving forward and fresh scene to scene. There is also the use of social media in certain moments as storytelling is absolutely brilliant and unique. Quite possibly my favorite moment of the film is the outro scene, although technically not part of the bread-and-butter of the film, it adds to the overall aesthetic and vibe.
Picture Quality 5/5
This is where things really start to shape the dynamic of this film. The music may be the best thing about it. Utilizing a combination of nineties hip-hop and original songs performed by Malcolm’s band “Awreeoh”, the atmosphere and overall rhythm to the film is delightful and fresh. This is in large part to the contribution Pharrell Williams, who wrote and helped compose four original songs that the band could perform during the film. This really helps sets the film apart in the coolest of ways. Even more than the original songs, we get an eclectic mix of songs for the soundtrack featuring songs from artists like Public Enemy, Nas, and Digital Underground sticking to the theme of the film and creating one hell of a mixtape. I failed to see this one in theaters, but both times watching the film at home, (once on Netflix and then on blu-ray, I found the audio experience to be flawless.
Audio Quality 5/5
The packaging for Dope is simple but does well to stand out. The visual aesthetic of the characters wardrobe’s and the backdrop for the film combines on the cover to make this one that sets itself apart. Dope seems to have its own unique lettering and fits into the time period and culture Malcolm and his friends are obsessed with. On the inside, we get two discs, one on each side one DVD and one Blu-ray. Both adorning the distinct lettering that we see on the front and both different enough that you can easily tell them apart. Although I usually prefer the discs that have some sort of artwork this oddly works for this film and the thematic elements within. It also looks like Universal decided to opt out of the eco-case for this release, which is always a plus. I would have really loved to have secured a sleeve for this release but considering I am at least two years late to purchasing this I really can’t complain.
The Packaging 4/5
Alas, it would seem I am finally disappointed in this film. Well, that is not exactly fair. I AM disappointed in this release however because, with a film so rich with individuality and unique content, I really expected more from the extras. Instead, we only get two featurettes which, unfortunately, contain a fair bit of overlap in the two featurettes. The special features included are:
- Dope is different
- This is a short featurette going over how Dope much likes the characters within is different than the films in its genre
- Dope music
- A look into what influenced the music choices for the soundtrack and the original songs written and produced by Pharrell Williams
Special Features 1/5
In the end, the film holds a mirror to pre-conceived notions and expectations of the black youth. All in a moment it makes a drastic statement without coming off too preachy. What is great about Dope is even with a serious subtextual point it maintains its fun atmosphere by ending the film with a dance montage to the song “The Humpty Dance”. What I like most about Dope is just how unique this film feels. It doesn’t feel like anything else I’ve watched over the past few years. It is really hard to get that unique of a perspective in a “teen film”. A combination of fresh, original music and a well-written plot line has an end result that is is just wonderful. You can purchase this edition HERE.
Overall 4/5 – Highly Recommended