Photo by MCT Campus
In one of Netflix’s better February releases, “Imperial Dreams” follows actor John Boyega as he swaps his British accent for ghetto slang in the role of Bambi, a young ex-convict with “imperial” aspirations to escape a world of gang violence for his son.
The empathetic film follows the at-first cliche storyline of Bambi’s post-prison pursuit to turn his life around. But the system of getting back on track is flawed: he needs a license to get a job, but he can’t get a license until he pays $15,000 of child support. Without a roof or funds, he turns to his manipulative uncle Shrimp (Glenn Plummer) who offers financial stability and shelter in exchange for assistance in his drug ring.
Boyega successfully externalized Bambi’s internal struggle between making a life for himself and his son and obtaining easy, drug money in his emotional performance. Through several close-up shots and attention to expression, director Malik Booth captures this sentiment.
Bambi’s refers to his son, Day, as “angel boy,” played by twins Ethan and Justin Coach. The two deliver a compelling performance of a stoic young boy growing up in poverty and danger. A play on Day’s angelic nick-name or not, Booth captures him in his most innocent moments — swimming with his father and riding a horse — with white light above his head, almost like a halo.
Bambi reads his poetic, yet profane, prison musings to his son in their temporary home — a car that doesn’t actually drive. The two use towels for blankets, Christmas lights for reading and gas stations for bathing. Because Day is, at first, untrusting of his felon father, it takes time to mend their relationship. Their connection blossoms by the end of the film as the two grow fonder of each other.
In the midst of it all, Bambi struggles to keep in contact with the Day’s mother (Keke Palmer) who is serving time after stealing food to keep their family from starving. Although Palmer makes only two cameo appearances, she delivers in her performance of a protective mother.
With the credits rolling at an hour and 26 minutes, there isn’t much time to transition from major scene to the next; so the film can tend to jump. The hip hop based soundtrack, composed by Flying Lotus, aids this transitional process and brings life to what would otherwise be bleak scenes.
Although the film ends abruptly, there’s promise for hope and an air that Booth wants us to think about our luck in society. The film is quiet, yet tackles loud topics like recidivism, gang violence and single parenthood.