Narrative Feature by Madeleine Sackler
Jeffrey Wright has been on my radar for a while now. Any time he pops up on screen, whether in The Hunger Games movies or on HBO’s Westworld, it gets me excited. He has this amazing presence on screen that is subtle, but so entertaining to watch. So, I was eager to see how O.G. would turn out and I have to say I was blown away. When I came out of the movie I said it was The Shawshank Redemption meets Fruitvale Station. It felt like I had just seen a true indie classic and Jeffrey Wright’s performance was tender and powerful. It was fitting that he was rewarded with the award for Best Actor for U.S. Narrative Competition at the festival.
This film is about Louis (Jeffrey Wright), who is an inmate at a maximum-security prison on the verge of being released. He’s been in prison for over twenty years for committing a violent crime, and now has to deal with the complex emotions associated with his release. Madeleine Sackler, the director of the film, really succeeds in letting the audience see inside the mind of Louis. It’s impossible not to get pulled in to the conflicting thoughts he has of feeling terrified of getting out and longing for release at the same time. But before Louis has to deal with what he does in the outside world, we see him struggle to let go of the hooks the prison system has in him and how he can pass on what he’s learned to a new convict, Beech (Theotus Carter). Over the course of the film, Beech and Louis form a fragile connection that threatens to break at any moment and tests each man on who they are and who they want to be.
One of the more incredible facts about O.G., is that was actually filmed in a real maximum-security prison with real inmates even acting in some scenes. The authenticity of the look and feel of the prison gives the film a rawness that feels both intimate and terrifying. It’s quite a remarkable achievement to even get the permission to do something like that, but Madeleine Slacker is primarily a documentary film maker, so it makes sense that her first fictional film would be saturated with a need for telling a story as truthfully as possible. I think she succeeds in really bringing the audience to a place many of us don’t really know about and showing us the humanity and heartbreak of incarcerated men in America.
(Madeleine Sackler also had a second film at the festival. It’s almost a companion piece to O.G., called It’s a Hard Truth Ain’t It.)