All Day and a Night (2020)
Written and Directed by: Joe Robert Cole
Starring: Ashton Sanders, Jeffrey Wright, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II
As a Bay Area native, the recent presence San Francisco and Oakland have been having in the film industry is exciting. When even one of the biggest blockbusters of all time, Black Panther, features one of your towns as an important plot point, it’s clear your city is having a moment. Truly spectacular, however, are the films which use the Bay Area as a character itself. Whether it’s the palpable excitement of Blindspotting, the tender melancholy of The Last Black Man in San Francisco, or the heartbreakingly beautiful Fruitvale Station these are films that feel alive. They show undeniable hardships, yes, but also triumphs, humor, and warmth.
It’s also what makes All Day and a Night so disappointing. It’s not so much that All Day and a Night is a bad movie. It features a great cast, with Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in particular stealing the show as a colorful gangster named Big Stunna. But the material the cast is working with isn’t compelling.
The film starts off promisingly enough: we’re introduced to our protagonist Jahkor (Ashton Sanders) through a tracking shot that follows him through a neighborhood in Oakland. It ends when he arrives in a home where he ruthlessly murders a man and his girlfriend. He spares the man’s innocent daughter, who is now left traumatized. After he is arrested and sentenced to life in prison, Jahkor thinks back on his life and circumstances, and how his life led to that fateful act that marked him forever.
The grim tone certainly fits the film, but there comes a point where the grimness becomes overbearing. And once we move past the grimness, we see that the film neither has anything new to say, nor does it say anything in a creative manner. Jahkor is shown to be a victim of his environment, living with an abusive father addicted to cocaine and surrounded by poverty. Seeing few other options, he becomes a gangster to make ends meet, which begins his downward spiral. It’s a story we’ve seen numerous times before, and All Day and a Night is about as much of a paint-by-numbers version of it as you can imagine.
That’s not to say there is any one facet of the film that exhibits glaring incompetence. Most of the performances are solid, the camera work is never distracting, and All Day and a Night’s intentions are good. The problem lies in how limply all aspects of this story are executed. Rather than imbue the story with a sense of vibrancy, writer and director Joe Robert Cole’s film feels flat and lifeless. For a film that wants to project urgency, there is little felt in the film as a whole. This can also be seen in Jahkor’s voice-over. Where the film should be focusing on what Jahkor is feeling through Sanders’ acting, it relies on an awkward narration that tells us precisely what he is thinking. The film doesn’t rely on the audience to know how to feel. It explicitly spells out what we should be feeling. Unfortunately, All Day and a Night is the kind of film where, by the end, you wind up not feeling much of anything at all.