Review of Changing the Game

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This 2012 film surround an intelligent young African-American male who rises above the oppressive streets of North Philadelphia to being a shining star in the lucrative world of high finance at Wall Street's most prestigious firm. However, he soon finds that the white-collar world is filled with crime and death just like the drug-inhabited hood he left behind.
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Movie Review: "Changing the Game"

--Rating: R (sexuality, nudity, violence, language, drug content)
Length: 103 minutes
Release Date: May 11, 2012
Directed by: Rel Dowdell
Genre: Action/Drama

Philadelphia may be called The City of Brotherly Love, but if you live in Northern Philly like the main characters in "Changing the Game," there is very little love going around and a whole lot of violence. In fact, the opening scene of the movie shows a young kid being shot and killed in cold blood as if to set the stage for what is to come

After the jarring opening scenes, we see two young friends who are growing up on those same mean streets. Darrell (Jakobi Alvin as a child, Sean Riggs as an adult) is being raised by his grandma (Irma P. Hall) to be a spiritual man. She quotes verses from the Bible and tries to raise him to be a good person. More than anything, she would like to see him get out of the violent neighborhood he is growing up in and find a new life in a safer place. He studies hard and reads a lot to educate himself, hoping it will help him get a college scholarship, so he can grant her wish. One of his favorite books is "The Prince" by Machiavelli, which is heavily quoted throughout the film.

Darrell's best friend Dre (Thomas Staten as a child, Dennis L.A. White as an adult) has no such dreams. While Darrell is a bit of a dreamer when it comes to his future, Dre is more of a realist. He sees the cycle of violence around him and doesn't think he will be able to break it. Though he is a bright child who could have a future outside of his current surroundings, he seems to be bogged down by reality. He figures he can't escape his eventual fate and grows up to be a drug dealer.

Darrell excels at school and earns a scholarship to Columbia University, deciding to get into the world of finance. He figures that working in a boardroom is the furthest thing from being a street thug or drug dealer like Dre is. He begins working at a big Wall Street firm, and things seem to be going well for him. The money is great; he can afford fancy clothes and a huge, well-appointed home. He starts to really enjoy the material things that he could not afford growing up, although the film is quick to point out he may be enjoying them a little too much.

Darrell begins to make a reputation for himself as a financial wiz and is soon approached by Obul Metha (Munir Kreidie), a sheik from the Middle East. He has some shady dealings with huge amounts of profits that need to be laundered, so he does not get caught by law enforcement. He enlists the help of Darrell, who barely flinches at providing the illegal money laundering services because Metha is willing to pay him big bucks to do it.

At this point, "Changing the Game" becomes a little bit preachy. There are several voice-overs in the film, many of which quote "The Prince," a book full of politics and questionable scruples, much like the financial industry. Writer and director Rel Dowdell is trying to show the audience that just because you dress up in a suit and work in a skyscraper, you are not necessarily a good person. The mean streets that Darrell left behind in Northern Philadelphia may be filled with shady characters, but so is Wall Street. Dowdell is almost daring viewers to see that just because a job appears legitimate or is socially acceptable doesn't mean that it is necessarily good or moral. The audience feels compelled to choose whether a money launderer at a high-level brokerage firm is better than a drug dealer.

Darrell begins to see the parallels between his old life growing up and his new one as an adult. As he becomes enlightened and realizes his greed, he has a bit of a crisis of conscience. It doesn't help that his grandma is slowly dying. The scenes between Darrell and his beloved grandma are heartbreaking and may require the audience to have a tissue or two on hand.

Riggs turns in a strong performance as the adult Darrell, who needs to decide if he wants to continue on the path he is currently on. White turns in an equally solid performance as the adult Dre and Irma P. Hall is her usual great self. Though Grandma Barnes could have easily been a stock character with no personality, Hall turns her into one of the highlights of the film.

The ending of "Changing the Game" has a fairly shocking twist to it that few if any viewers will see coming. There is quite a bit of action going into the ending, turning what was once a quiet drama into more of a thriller. The change in tone aside, the film is still satisfying, and in an age of demands for financial reform, it also feels very timely.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars