Although you probably wouldn’t think that Rogue Cinema would receive a fair share of hip hop inspired crime films, I have received my own fair share of titles that thrive within this genre. These are not movies that focus entirely on hip hop as a music form, but instead these are films that act as depictions of the pure bravado that some forms of hip hop promote. Despite being a big fan of hip hop, I tend to veer away from the "gangsta" rap element. However, I still consider myself a fairly massive fan of crime cinema in general. A part of me loves the idea of gangster-movie loyalists doing their part in continuing the legacy of great crime films, but these movies do often fall into many of the same pitfalls. As we have seen in the horror genre within recent years, genre fans can contribute both the best and the very worst when it comes to their respective genres. All in the Game is a gangster title that looks to take its inspiration from several organized-crime movies from the past, but offers a slightly more modern twist. In a multitude of ways, the movie does turn out to be successful, but unfortunately it also suffers from several key issues that tend to drag it down.
All in the Game tells the story of Ontario Damon Banks (Nelson Irizarry), a East Baltimore based criminal kingpin who has intentions of taking over the city. Standing in his way are the local mafia bosses, who control the city with a iron fist. Ontario, however, has devised a plan to start a quiet war with the Italians that will see his crew taking on these old style gangsters without riling up a war in the streets. To do this, he intends to aim directly for the head of his enemies. What follows is a series of kidnappings and brutal murders that may very well see Ontario rise to the top of the Baltimore criminal world. However, not everyone within Ontario’s empire will stick along for the ride.
I have seen many low budget crime films in my time as a reviewer here at Rogue Cinema. It appears that despite “gangsta” rap taking a dive in popularity, the independent film world has taken a liking to this Scarface-inspired world of crass and violent businessmen. Although All in the Game starts off featuring a few amateurish performances, it quickly shows promise and technical wizardry that sets it above many films in this genre. The first clue for the audience that these filmmakers actually intend to do something slightly different, comes in the form of its black and white cinematography. This is something that comes fairly unexpected, due to black and white photography often being relegated to art films or neo-noir titles in this modern age. This immediately creates a atmosphere of creativity that the movie does not deviate from. In combination with this retro fashion, the film also uses a great deal of handheld camerawork in an attempt to create something slightly meta. This combination of new and old aesthetics somehow works well together, and manages to bring a gritty sort of realism to the film.
The problem with a lot of these movies, however, are the lack of true characters. Although we all love strong gangsters leading our crime films, there needs to be multiple dimensions to make any character stand out as realistic. Although Al Pacino is famous for saying that his character Tony Montanna was gloriously two-dimensional, Tony was actually very well written. Considering that Tony Montanna is the blueprint for almost every over-the-top crime movie made in its wake, I believe that he is the perfect example for what works and what does not in a hardened crime-movie. Tony Montanna may have been a tough guy onscreen, but his drug problem made him a wild gun who couldn’t control himself in the slightest bit. He also had a incestuous love affair going on with his sister, which added another strange layer to a well built and multi-faceted character. In direct opposition to this, a character who is built primarily on posturing seems to work best when he is played in a slightly more low key fashion. All in the Game, however, is anything but low key. Verbose speeches are thrown around like characters are delivering Shakespearean monologs. Our lead, the character Ontario, is performed well by Nelson Irizarry. He is a strong and intimidating force when he is onscreen, however, the character only seems to have one face for the audience: “Badass.” Unfortunately, this becomes rather hard to swallow, and audiences may not react well to his lengthy speeches throughout the duration of the film.
All in the Game is low on plot, but high on violence and general tough guy demeanor. This is a hit or miss situation, because it will probably limit the audience for such a title. While some are bound to enjoy the testosterone-fueled machismo that accompanies the film, others will be slightly more realistic when focusing on the actual logistics of the movie. In all actuality, this is a title that is based around several torture sequences where our leading man espouses long pages worth of expositional dialogue. After a while, the long speeches and the brutal torture sessions can grow somewhat stale. Some viewers might appreciate the purely gangster approach that the movie takes, but I personally found myself rather conflicted while watching.
A solid little crime film, All in the Game obviously won’t make it on every viewers "best of" list at the end of the year. I do think that the movie shows that director Gary Ugarek has a tremendous amount of talent, and he should do well in establishing himself. A visually compelling feature, All in the Game certainly manages to differentiate itself from the pack. I know that I personally look forward to seeing how the director stretches out and handles a slightly larger scope in the near future. For more information, check out the film’s official Facebook page