Gimme The Loot, a masterfully woven tale told over the course of two days, tells the story of two African-American graffiti taggers from the Bronx who lose their cans after owning money to a major street gang. These two teenagers have no income, and cannot turn to their parents (who don’t make an appearance in the film, whatsoever) for support to fix their current dilemma. Set against the harsh streets of the Bronx and the beautiful scope that is downtown Manhattan, there is a great paradox in this film about how each district shapes the lives of its inhabitants. In the case of our two protagonists, Sofia and Malcolm, the Bronx has shaped them as individuals without filters – their graphic and loud discussion of condoms in Central Park is both hilarious and incredibly telling – and kids who thrive on survival instincts in order to continuing existing.
Sofia and Malcolm will steal from and beat up on whoever wrongs them. To live in the Bronx, you tragically have to learn these behaviors in order to survive, or you’ll be easily taken advantage of and found dead on the streets if you aren’t careful. The authentic screenplay makes it clear that the director did thorough research on his subjects and the harsh world from which they come from. Every line of dialogue from writer-director Adam Leon is raw and slightly raunchy, but portrays African-American kids from the Bronx at their most vulnerably real. The two leads have such good chemistry that you wonder if they’re also best friends in real life. Tashiana Washington, as Sofia, particularly blew me away with her grit and self-awareness of the tomboy image she puts on, using it to brave through the tough streets of New York City.
Ty Hickson as Malcolm is effective in his handling of a boy who is young, horny, and in dire need of money. Throughout his excursions over the course of two days, he becomes romantically and sexually challenged by a drug dealer’s girlfriend, Ginnie (Zoe Lescaze). The two have an instantaneous chemistry, but whether his capricious love for Ginnie is reciprocated is something you’ll have to discover on this journey. Their scenes on Ginnie’s bed are wonderfully written, building up to heated tensions that one normally doesn’t see between youth so young. Zoe Lescaze is a rare find. She lights up each scene in the same whimsically charming way that a quirky actress like Zoe Kazan or Zooey Deschanel does (there’s something about actresses named Zoe/Zooey, huh?). I strongly suggest more filmmakers use her in future films, because she has a real talent when it comes to owning a scene.
Where Gimme The Loot could frustrate is that it has no definable story. There’s no “Point A to Point B” arc that is taken throughout the characters’ massive journey across the Big Apple. Looking for a conclusion within this unique tale may leave some disappointed, but that perhaps is the magic of this Cannes “Official Selection.” I couldn’t care less if there was an overarching plot or not (the beginning tries to suggest the two have a desire to tag the Mets’ “apple” mascot in similar fashion to one historical graffiti tag of the past), because the dialogue is rich and stunningly realistic, and the characters’ interactions with each other indisputably draw you in. For his first feature film, Adam Leon’s Gimme The Loot is magnificent — it’s a well researched, deftly acted film, with a screenplay that contends with the best of 2012. For those who gripe over white people’s inability to truly capture the “Black Experience” in the Bronx, look no further, because Leon proves otherwise.