‘Kin’ a fresh spin on the sci-fi genre
The Movie Guru
Rating: PG-13 for gun violence and intense action, suggestive material, language, thematic elements and drinking
Screenplay by Daniel Casey, based on the short film “Bag Man” by Jonathan and Josh Baker
Directed by: Jonathan and Josh Baker
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Zoe Kravitz, James Franco and more
Ranking: Three and a half stars
“Kin” isn’t quite like any other movie you’ve ever seen before.
The film, the first full-length feature from directors Jonathan and Josh Baker, is a surprisingly engrossing fusion of a gritty indie drama and a Spielberg-esque sci-fi family feature. The results are heartbreaking to watch at times, but you can’t stop watching because you want to know what happens next. With some great performances and an unexpectedly great conclusion to a key plot point, “Kin” makes me excited about what else the Baker brothers might have up their sleeves.
“Kin” focuses on a 14-year-old African American boy named Eli in Detroit who earns some pocket money collecting copper and other metal scrap from abandoned buildings. He finds a strange-looking gun in one of the buildings around the same time his adoptive older brother Jimmy gets out of prison to a local criminal gang. After a life-altering series of events, the two go on the run chased by murderous criminals and two mysterious figures that are tracking the strange gun.
The movie is a sci-fi family adventure and a tragedy in the same breath, the kind that tugs at your heartstrings and leaves you shaking your head at the choices of some of the characters involved. You can see the worst coming, long before it does, the characters falling to it through their own weaknesses rather than annoying plot contrivance. The movie leaves a surprising amount of room for hope—it would be too much, otherwise—but there’s plenty of bleeding first, both literally and figuratively.
I don’t want to give away too much, but “Kin” is definitely no “E.T.” There’s a healthy dose of violence in here, including several robberies and pretty much the mass murder of an entire station full of small-town law enforcement. Although most of the violence is committed by a smarmy James Franco rather than the protagonists, that doesn’t change the fact that you’re probably going to want to keep the kids away.
The movie also makes surprisingly good use of setting and cinematography. They make Detroit look like the destroyed remnants of any number of sci-fi war zones, the kind where finding some sort of alien gun is not only unsurprising, but expected. The idyllic shots of the Midwest and West that appear in the window—beautiful sunsets, picturesque plains—mirror the too-idyllic bonding moments Eli and Jimmy are experiencing. Even less grand shots have their part to play, with hallways serving as echoes of the emotions the characters are feeling.
Myles Truitt, best known for his roles in TV’s “Black Lightning” and “Queen Sugar,” gives Eli just the right balance of innocence and emotional dislocation to make him both likeable and entirely believable as someone who could get sucked into this kind of trouble. Jack Reynor makes Jimmy surprisingly likeable as well, giving him a sense of sweetness even though he makes the man’s self-destructive tendencies clear.
In the end, their journey together makes for a surprisingly unforgettable experience.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.