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The Bottom Line
Should you see it?
Writer/director Leon's knack for language and love of New York comes through in this subtle portrait of a city and its lively characters.
What sets Gimme the Loot apart from the huge number of great (Raising Victor Vargas, The Squid and the Whale) and not-so-great (The Wackness, Lola Versus) modern movies about young love in NYC is it defies expectations. It's a film about two black youths in the Bronx who dream of bombing the Citi Field Apple, but there's almost zero hip hop (as synonymous with the Bronx as Yankee Stadium) and there's no violence. It's as if Leon wanted to create his own Do the Right Thing, but without all the drama. Not that there's none. Leon's film has a unique adventure at its center, but doesn't go out of its way to be anything more than it is, which is both refreshing and a credit to Leon's sense of restraint.
Ty Hickson) and Sofia (Tashiana Washington) brazenly rob a hardware store of spray paint and jump into an open hatchback for a clean getaway. The two teens are partners in tagging and are in the midst of a rivalry with a Queens group. Malcolm proposes a plan: Spray paint the famous giant apple at the Mets' home park. They have the will, but need $500 to pay the dude who can let them in. For the rest of the day, the two hustle weed, sneakers, anything, to get the money while crossing paths with a colorful cross-section of NYC's finest.
To give the film its carefree vibe, Leon went with a soundtrack of obscure '50s R&B and soul classics by artists like King Coleman, Eloise Carter, and Brother Jack McDuff. It's a nostalgic choice that adds a distance between what you're hearing and what appears onscreen. The songs act as a kind of rhythmic narrator, pacing the beats of the action and accentuating the fun of the story.
At the heart of Gimme the Loot is the relationship between Malcolm and Sofia. They're partners in crime and best friends who share everything and talk shit about everything. Hickson plays Malcolm as a fast-talking and fun-loving kid on the hunt for girls or money at every turn. He's endearingly naive about both and his charm is in his self-effacing humility. Sofia is almost the opposite. She's young and naive also but belies those traits with a stark self-confidence that she hopes is intimidating. Washington plays it way down here. The gorgeous actress wears a ratty T-shirt the entire film and her hair is pulled back and out of the way. She's a perfect Bronx tomboy, tough on the outside with a gooey middle, evidenced by her wry smile she hides when she gets a compliment.
Hickson and Washington lead an impressive cast of actors and non-actors who help give the film its feeling of authenticity. Leon breaks up the story with some documentary-like touches—guys playing dominos, a group of kids rapping on the bleachers—that enhance the visual narrative, firmly planting the film in reality. What really stands out, however, is the love Leon has for New York, conveyed by his wide shots of its streets, buildings, and bridges.
Leon transitions between sequences with shots of New York from high and below, recalling Woody Allen's early work (Leon was a P.A. on two Allen films). He makes it clear the city is its own animal and while the people may come and go, the street will reflect the times as it always has. Leon's New York is rugged like Rahim Bahrani's Chop Shop, but picturesque like Allen's films without the sense of grandeur. In short, it's what's real.