Art as a Weapon
|Starring:||Mark Webber, Jaclyn DeSantis, Gano Grills, Jade Yorker, Al Sapienza|
“Bomb The System” is an admirable film. Set in the world of graffiti writing in New York City, writer/director Adam Bhala Lough’s feature debut uses this framework to tell the story of Anthony a.k.a. Blest (Mark Webber), a graffiti artist who needs to rise above his increasingly dangerous surroundings, although this environment provides him a comfort he is reluctant to leave behind. Lough’s urban coming-of-age tale doesn’t really move beyond the familiar trappings of the genre’s narrative formula. It’s obvious the filmmaker was more inspired by the context of his screenplay than its content, but it’s impossible to call this film a novelty piece. Lough’s affection for his characters is too heartfelt and his visual ideas too unique for such a label to be warranted.
Equally haunted and inspired by the memory of his deceased brother — once the best graffiti writer in the city — Blest is an artist who is not completely aware of his talent. Prodded by his mother to apply to a number of art schools, the young man would rather live a similar life to the one that resulted in his brother’s demise. This life consists of consuming drugs at all-night parties, stealing spray paint cans from hardware stores during the day, and “bombing” the Gotham streets with his best friend Buk 50 (Gano Grillo) and Buk’s 15-year-old brother, Lune (Jade Yorker).
The three-man crew butt heads with the NYPD’s Vandal Squad headed by a CORRUPT (Harvey Keitel in “The Bad Lieutenant” has got nothing on this guy) officer named Bobby Cox (Al Sapienza). Lune discovers that the Vandal Squad means business early on when he is busted and goes home with a gash on his face courtesy of Cox. This serves as no deterrent to Buk 50, who responds by engaging in a “graffiti war” with the police. Blest shows some small signs that he realizes his crew is fighting a war they can’t win, and when he finds a love interest in a young political activist, Alex (Jaclyn DeSantis), who also uses the city as a canvas for expression, Blest is forced to make life-altering decisions.
Since this film is about the lives of outlaw artists, it’s natural that Lough would incorporate a stylistically blunt approach. The director uses freeze frames, split screens, stills, etc. to create a sense-enveloping experience, and it’s a method that serves the material well, once you get past the initial flamboyance. Lough possesses a striking visual flair, but character and plot contrivances abound in his screenplay.
Blest is a decently developed central character, although his life’s obstacles and possible resolutions are fairly obvious (higher education and “the girl” providing potential salvation from a life stuck on repeat — can you say, to cite a recent example, “Good Will Hunting”?). The protagonist has a traditional character arc, which seems to act primarily as attempted dramatic fuel for what I found to be a cheap ending. Police officer Bobby Cox is a cartoon-like embodiment of wanton evil (spitting out lines like, “Let’s go break some bones!”), and although authority is presumably a bomber’s number one antagonist, the film would’ve benefited immensely from even the slightest shade of gray being injected into the character (something beyond a back-story of misery). The dialogue is mainly sparse and effective, although some of Alex’s mission statement speeches come across as stilted lectures.
The world of graffiti is explored with a good amount of depth — an especially helpful introduction for a novice (like me). Scenes of Blest and his friend Noble (Cesl Buchanan) “racking” paint cans are treated with a welcome comic touch, and we are exposed to the code of ethics that exists in this marginalized culture. Again, the culture appears to be Lough’s main thrust here, but to a point of excess that occasionally obscures the story and characters.
“Bomb The System” is a trip into a very real underground world, and shows a filmmaker working in a territory of personal passion. Lough’s skill and sincerity ultimately shine through, relegating most of the film’s flaws to the world of very understandable first-time mistakes.