Bishop Blay has an arresting face and an even more arresting screen presence in "Out of My Hand."
In his first film role, Blay brings a naturalism and grounded soulfulness to his performance as Cisco, a Liberian rubber tapper embroiled in a labor struggle. Against this backdrop, the promise of America looms large in his community, everyone curious if it's truly the land of milk and honey.
Cisco isn't so caught up in these fantasies, having heard of the struggles from his cousin, who immigrated to New York to drive a cab. Regardless, when the labor strike doesn't go in the workers' favor, Cisco sets out for the Big Apple.
The city is difficult and alienating, removed from the quiet, lush stillness of Liberia. Not every depiction of an immigrant story bothers to show where a character came from, but "Out of My Hand" co-writer and director Takeshi Fukunaga uses Cisco's simple but lovely life in Liberia as a powerful counterpoint to his American dream.
One of the things Cisco finds in the big city is that the world can be too small, and the ghosts of the past can rise up out of the asphalt to greet you. As Cisco's dark past comes crashing into his present, our conception of him is irreparably altered.
The film may deliver an all-too-neat resolution, but the haunting reminder that your past is never far away lingers.
"Out of My Hand"
MPAA rating: None.
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
Playing: Downtown Independent, Los Angeles.