Cinema Review: Mangrove [NYFF 2020] | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, October 29th, 2020  

Mangrove [NYFF 2020]

Studio: Amazon Studios/BBC
Directed by Steve McQueen

Sep 25, 2020 Web Exclusive
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Mangrove – the first film in the five-part Small Axe anthology series from director Steve McQueen – builds on the procedural courtroom drama in new and influential ways. Based on a true story in London in the late ‘60s into the early ‘70s, the film follows Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes), owner of the Mangrove Restaurant. Set in the Notting Hill neighborhood, a haven for the West Indian community, the Mangrove suffers from unnecessary raid after raid by local police. Crichlow and the restaurant patrons begin peacefully protesting against these uncalled for raids. Led by Crichlow and Black Panther activist Altheia Jones-LeCointe (Letitia Wright) the protest turns violent upon clashing with police officers. Nine of the protestors – eventually dubbed the “Mangrove Nine” – are arrested on false charges. A year later, an 11-week trial follows.

The film is split in two distinct halves with the protest scene in the middle. The first half builds up to the event, the second half addresses the consequences of that event. The film takes its time exploring each character, on both sides, in the first half, exploring individual motivations. Once the trial begins in the second half, viewers are able to understand and comprehend not only the complete picture of what happened, but also everything that built up to it.

McQueen’s style relies on subtle shots and dialogue to present themes. Mangrove is both a noticeable and notable departure from this approach. The film doesn’t hold back on its messaging. This works as Crichlow’s story, as well as the story of the other eight defendants, is one that deserves and needs a loud voice to resonate with viewers. One of the most influential tactics Mangrove uses is the history of Britain’s West Indian community, particularly in the 20th century, as a lens to comment on the present time. While the courtroom drama setting is predictable, by pushing beyond the predictability, McQueen is able to tell the story of the Mangrove Nine in a way that feels familiar yet fresh, at the same time incredibly engrossing and deeply frustrating to witness.

The performances in Mangrove are spectacular. Each of the nine principal actors, and the supporting cast, give a memorable and deeply profound performance, sinking into their real life subjects with skill and gravitas. Parkes’ standout performance as Frank Crichlow is astonishing. In the center role of Mangrove, Parkes is tasked with carrying the heaviest emotional burden. The actor’s innate screen presence commands a dynamic and bold spotlight portrayal, and one that McQueen uses to the film’s advantage through many close-up shots and powerful monologues, especially during the trial scenes.

The importance of the story, the unforgettable performances, and McQueen’s incredible direction make Mangrove deeply resonant and powerful, marking another win for the Small Axe series.

(www.filmlinc.org/nyff2020/films/mangrove/)

Author rating: 7/10

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