TIFF 2020: Akilla’s Escape (Charles Officer, Canada)

By Adam Nayman

A weary, wary weed dealer with decades on his odometer, Akilla (Saul Williams) operates self-effacingly under cover of the Toronto night; staring down the barrel of a gun aimed by Jamaican gangbanger Sheppard (Thamela Mpumlwana), he decides to try to save a wayward boy who could be his mirror. The structural gimmick that gives Mpumlwana a dual role represents writer-director Charles Officer’s boldest attempt at a conceptual coup in a thriller filled to the brim with gimmicks: we also get cryptic, cyclical flashbacks, ominous intertitles, and a credit sequence outlining the colonial history of Jamaica, collective evidence either of authentic directorial restlessness or else an attempt to distract from the genericness of the urban noirtropes on display. Akilla’s Escape is nicely photographed by Maya Bankovic, whose images come expressionistically colour-coded, and the soundtrack by Williams and  Massive Attack alum 3D skitters and skips unpredictably even as the storytelling stays resolutely and ultimately boringly on beat.