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by Greg Vellante
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Sep 13, 2017

The name of executive producer David Gordon Green feels appropriately at home in the credits for "Dayveon," the debut film by Amman Abbasi. It's a work that seems fated to garner comparisons to Green's debut, 2000's "George Washington," even without the filmmaker's involvement, and these juxtapositions are certainly warranted. Both films find aesthetic and thematic influence from the work of film artists like Terrence Malick, especially the filmmaker's seminal 1978 work "Days of Heaven," where the camera takes on a godlike role by meditatively examining the lives of subjects living on the outskirts of poverty and societal abandon while battling wars of morality within.

"Dayveon" is an inaugural work that just barely misses the heights set by "George Washington" 17 years ago, but one which still manages to stand strongly on its own as a strikingly profound work of soulful character study. Our title character is a 13-year-old boy (Devin Blackmon) living with his sister (Chasity Moore) and her boyfriend, Brian (Dontrell Bright), in the aftermath of his brother's recent death by shooting. We never hear the specifics of this shooting, but all signs lead to the incident being gang-related, which makes the film's course of events increasingly heartbreaking as Dayveon gets "jumped into" the local gang of Bloods (a vicious ritual where a gang chooses you and beats you up for a few minutes while you lie defenseless, thus initiating you as a member).

As the film moves along, Abbasi brilliantly captures the fearful juvenility and fabricated bravado of his subject-a boy whose voice cracks with pubescence while still trying to act tough around the far older members of the gang he's beginning to call family. In one of the film's most heartbreaking sequences, Dayveon spends the day riding bikes and skipping rocks in the woods with Brayden (Kordell Johnson), another young teen who has just been initiated into the same gang. Dayveon relays key details regarding why his parents aren't in the picture anymore after his brother's death, but then the scene ends with the two boys practicing the Blood's hand symbols and smiling. They've found a brotherhood to replace what they have lost in their lives, even when they both know deep down the dangers of what they're pursuing.

The film's most moving performance comes from Dontrell Bright, as Brian, the boyfriend of Dayveon's sister, Kim. Forced to serve simultaneously as the household's breadwinner and a father/brother figure towards Dayveon, Bright generates enormous empathy in every scene he's in. A climactic scene shared between Dayveon and Brian is likely the film's most moving moments. Sometimes, kids just need to be made aware that you understand what they're going through, and "Dayveon" is a film that understands this concept with a full and open heart.

It's a heart that "Dayveon" wears unashamedly on its cinematic sleeve, and it's impossible not to let it affect you in one way or another. The film sticks with you in unexpected ways, especially in its final moments, with the last shot designed to haunt your inner workings like a ghost.


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