(director/writer: Tanya Hamilton; cinematographer: David Tumblety; editors: John Chimples/Affonso Gonçalves; cast: Anthony Mackie (Marcus), Tariq Trotter (Bostic), Jamie Hector (Dwayne “DoRight” Miller), Kerry Washington (Patty), Ron Simons (Carey Ford, Lawyer),Amari Cheatom (Jimmy), Jamara Griffin (Iris), Wendell Pierce (David Gordon), Arthur Lyle (Policeman); Runtime: 89; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Sean Costello/Jason Orans/Ron Simons; Magnolia; 2010)

“A gritty urban race relation pic set in the simmering summer streets of Philadelphia.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Writer-director Tanya Hamilton’s debut feature is a gritty urban race relation pic set in the simmering summer streets of Philadelphia in the Bicentennial year of 1976, whose fiction takes us into real events in the civil rights movement (the narrative intertwines newsreel shots of the Black Panthers).It plays out as a Charles Burnett-like drama that gives us a hard-edged realistic look at the black community and the influence of the Black Panthers, started in the 1960s, on the Germantown neighborhood.

World-weary ex-Black Panther Marcus (Anthony Mackie) returns home after a long absence to Germantown for his dad’s funeral and finds his Muslim brother Bostic (Tariq Trotter) is so upset with him for being labeled a snitch that he won’t let him stay in dad’s house.Feeling like an outsider in his old neighborhood, Marcus moves into the house of community activist attorney Patty (Kerry Washington), whose Black Panther husband killed a white police officer and in turn the police killed him. Marcus and Patty were always tight, but her young wide-eyed daughter Iris (Jamara Griffin) eyes Marcus with suspicion and wonders what mom sees in him.

Marcus receives contempt in the neighborhood, as the black Caddy he inherited from his father is spray-painted in white with the word ‘snitch.’ He also must also deal with hate coming from Dwayne “DoRight” Miller (Jamie Hector), local bar owner and the neighborhood enforcer; hot-headed 18-year-old Jimmy (Amari Cheatom), Patty’s residing cousin and a new Panther recruit who develops a hate for whites and has an influence on Iris; and the black detective David Gordon (Wendell Pierce), who feels he owns Marcus because he knows secrets from his past.

The neighborhood boils over with racial tensions from the past, as there’s a continuing gulf between the black youths and white cops who patrol the area. It leads to another white cop killed, which shows how easy it is for things to turn ugly when there’s racial polarization. As if that wasn’t enough of a storyline, there’s a smoldering romance between Patty and Marcus that is deeply affected by life in the street.

The performances by Mackie and Washington are riveting, while the leafy Germantown setting is enticing. Though the politics might leave some things hanging in the air, its heart is in the right place questioning why the need for violence. The main point of the story seems to be how best to survive unpleasant events and move on with one’s life. This is something both the guilt-ridden Marcus and Patty are trying to do, but both in different ways and with different results. The film’s strength is that the personal dramatics sizzled along with the explosive matters in the street, making sparks fly on two fronts.

REVIEWED ON 11/26/2010 GRADE: B+