Review: ‘Akilla’s Escape’ mines socio-political context of Toronto’s Jamaican community

A man looks apprehensively to his left in movie "Akilla's Escape."
Saul Williams in the movie “Akilla’s Escape.”
(Vertical Entertainment)

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A meditative mood piece, Charles Officer’s neo-noir crime thriller “Akilla’s Escape” dispenses with the usual cops-and-robbers tropes in its depiction of a young male teen enveloped in a seemingly unavoidable cycle of violence.

Set against the backdrop of Toronto’s Jamaican community, which forms a significant part of the city’s vibrant cultural mosaic, the story is seen through the haunted eyes of its 40-year-old title character, affectingly played by actor-poet Saul Williams.


Looking to cash out of his clandestine cannabis-growing operation now that the industry has become legalized, Akilla makes one of his last deliveries to a Greek-run dispensary only to witness a violent robbery perpetrated by the Area Six Generals, a street gang affiliated with the notorious Garrison Army (based on the real-life Shower Posse).

The gang escapes with the exception of Sheppard, a mute, epileptic 15-year-old (Thamela Mpumlwana), in whom Akilla sees his teenaged self (also played by Mpumlwana) when he was living in Brooklyn, where he was initiated into the Garrison Army by his abusive father (Ronnie Rowe Jr.).

Although the constant shifts between contemporary Toronto and ‘90s New York can at times cause confusion, the film remains firmly rooted in Williams’ quietly powerful, laser-focused performance. He and Massive Attack’s 3D (a.k.a. Robert Del Naja) contribute the atmospheric score and the film boasts a unifying visual schematic captured by Maya Bankovic’s poetic cinematography.

Those who would have preferred Akilla’s “escape” to be executed with more Guy Ritchie-style bombast might shrug indifferently, but the incendiary social-political context provided by Officer and co-writer Motion (a.k.a. Wendy Motion Brathwaite) ultimately proves more potent than one more explosive firefight or tightly-cut car chase.

‘Akilla’s Escape’

Not rated

Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Playing: Starts June 11, Laemmle Royal, West L.A.