Mickey Hardaway (2023)

Rating: B

Dir: Marcellus Cox
Star: Rashad Hunter, Stephen Cofield Jr., Ashley Parchment, David Chattam

This is not our typical fare here, but our policy has always been that we’ll review anything someone wants to send in. It’s good to get outside of your comfort zone now and again, and experience has shown that such forays are typically worthwhile. Such is the case here, with this intense drama about Mickey (Hunter), a young man with dreams of becoming an artist. Except, life has a ruthless and apparently insatiable appetite for taking his aspirations and crushing them in the most harsh manner. We know this isn’t going to end well from the beginning, which seems him gunning a man down, apparently in cold blood. The story of how Mickey reached that point, is the rest of the story, told in flashback.

Indeed, there are multiple levels of flashback. A reluctant Mickey is convinced by his girlfriend, Grace (Parchment), to visit therapist Dr. Harden (Cofield) in the hope of unburdening his internal anger. There, we discover that Mickey grew up with an abusive father (Chattam), who had no time for his son’s artistic inclinations, and crushed them at every turn, until Mickey finally reached his limits and fought back. Good enough to get a scholarship, he worked multiple jobs to pay the balance of college, and eventually got his dream job. Only, that happiness doesn’t last, with his boss screwing Mickey over, and sending him into a downward spiral of alcohol and hate. Which takes us back to where we came in: with violence.

Not exactly a bundle of laughs, obviously, and matters there are enhanced by starkly effective black-and-white photography, that reduce the world to something like one of Mickey’s sketches. The appropriately-named Grace is the only light in his life, and it’s when he pushes her away that Mickey’s free-fall reaches terminal velocity. It’s rarely a good sign when someone starts doing Travis Bickle impressions in his bedroom mirror (top). The twisted thing is, by the end, you could be left wondering if his father might have been right after all. For while society’s callous indifference is certainly a factor, you can argue it’s Mickey’s dreams, and his pursuit of them, which are the root of all his pain, suffering and eventual explosion.

This complexity runs throughout the film, and much credit is due to Cox for almost entirely avoiding the obvious clich├ęs, which would have seen Mickey triumph over his inner demons, for example. Again, the outcome is clear from the start, Cox adopting an almost fatalistic approach – when we hear Mickey detailing his love of hunting to Dr. Harden, I literally flinched. The final detonation does leave me rather less sympathetic to him; there are many people to whom life has been even more cruel, and they don’t explode in (mainly unjustified) violence. But like everything else here, it’s not simple, and you will be left with a lot to think about, when all has been said and done.

[The film will be released on July 13 through Amazon Prime and Apple TV]