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Home > A Thousand And One (2023), A Review

A Thousand And One (2023), A Review

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A Powerful Debut and Stellar Time Capsule

A.V. Rockwell’s directorial debut, A Thousand and One, is a myriad work that feeds many influences and ideas into its small-scale New York environs, its snapshots of an ever changing city in perpetual conflict that has a thousand tragic stories play out on every corner every day. This film chronicles the story of a mother and her son surviving in this shifting landscape but, through telling it, it is also a tale of the city itself that – for better or for worse – is constantly being reshaped by different sets of hands. It takes a village to raise a child, but when someone’s left to cope with the weight of the world pressing down on them, do the ends justify the means if it means giving that child a better, brighter future? That burden is woven through the framework of this film. 

Fast Times in Harlem

 When headstrong Inez – played by Teyana Taylor (Coming 2 America) – is released from prison, she kidnaps her six-year-old son Terry from foster care after he is admitted to the hospital. Following this, both mother and son must bear this secret and evade law enforcement as Inez sets out to reclaim her sense of identity and stability for her son against the backdrop of the evolving New York City of the 90s and early 2000s. From immediate and close threats to threats of cold economic ones, it is permeated by socio-political commentary. However, the heart of the movie lies in the compelling relationship between Inez and Terry.

 A Thousand and One is a driven and phenomenal debut by Rockwell. Elements of Barry Jenkins, Spike Lee and John Cassavetes exude strongly here, but Jenkins feels like the closest kin to Rockwell. One could say that A Thousand and One is almost a blend of Jenkin’s Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk but, to Rockwell’s credit, it nearly outshines both. The film represents a tough reality filtered through the lenses of race in its portrayal of black lives in Harlem and that of single motherhood. It is a raw and a terribly beautiful depiction of, as the name alludes to, a thousand and one cases similar to Inez’s struggles. The weight of its world slowly presses down like a weight on one’s chest; it crashes on the door of the life Inez and her husband Lucky (William Catlett) have built for Terry like the city’s zeitgeist looking to upend their existence and evict them. While the pacing is awkward, it slowly draws you in enough that it becomes cursory as the heartbeat of the city, and one is brought further into the timeline of events unfolding; one witnesses the slow and destructive gentrification of Harlem which serves to shape, not only New York but Terry too. 

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Teyana Taylor is a Force of Nature 

Teyana Taylor is the key factor in what elevates this film, and arguably without her passionate performance, the film may not work. Inez is not a character meant to be judged in black or white terms; she’s a complex woman struggling with self-acceptance, and much more which Taylor’s dynamism helps to nail down. And while the audience views the film’s first half mainly through her eyes, the perspective shifts to that of a grown Terry. Terry – portrayed as a child by Aaron Kingsley Adetola then as a teen Aven Courtney and finally by Josiah Cross as high school-age Terry – acts more so as a dramatic plot device until the halfway point but as the focus changes, he turns a quiet tempest and the former half is recontextualized as one sees how gets shaped by his environment. Josiah Cross really helps to sell this aspect of his character and does a superb job as he comes to terms with the truth of his upbringing and the institutions surrounding him. While the narrative can feel a bit empty without Inez, the proceeding schism that eschews between Terry and Inez and Inez and the audience puts the audience as much in the dark as it does Terry to an effective degree. Unbeknown to both, the film holds one last punch for its knockout blow that may feel unsatisfying or frigid to some. Considering what was built up prior and its metatext, it’s hard to imagine a more fitting conclusion. It feels realistic, like a splash of cold water to the face.

Through cinematographer Eric Yue’s vibrantly precise and striking cinematography, he depicts the dramatic personality changes in New York with a great sense of authenticity. As the film’s composer, Gary Gunn bestows lyricism and warmth that is perfectly attuned to the atmosphere. The opening theme and its reprise version – featured in the credits – is the natural standout with flavourful tones and heavy percussion, an apt fit that weaves the gentle highs and pounding lows. Some of the cinematography doesn’t gel well such as part of the film’s opening, and some sequences come off a little cheap which could be attributed to a limited budget or the hardships of filming during the Covid pandemic. Despite the rough edges, the film’s gestalt is personable and a deep-cut making it hard to believe that it’s a directorial feature debut. Everything comes together to let it blossom into a rich and veracious film.

One to Watch for Award Season

A Thousand and One is akin to a long goodbye, delaying the inevitable as best one can and trying to safeguard the ones you love before reality disturbs the sanctity of one’s home and life. This is a definite recommendation and one that might be a potential Oscar contender.

A Thousand and One is available to rent or purchase on Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, Google Play, and Vudu.

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A Thousand And One (2023) Universal Studios Official Trailer

Source: Dead Talk Live

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Author

Adam Z. Matthews
Adam Matthews is a writer at heart who wants to share his love of the peculiar and strange with others. Having completed an MFA in Creative Writing from the American College Dublin and an M.Phil in Screenwriting from Trinity College Dublin, he hopes to carve a path to making storytelling his career. If he were to be reincarnated, he would want to be a 1940s LA private investigator.