The women fare no better here. Elder Jah tells us in narration that mothers and grandmothers hold most families together in his neighborhood. However, Jah’s own mother is powerless in numerous scenes. There’s also a scene featuring the great character actor Regina Taylor as Jah’s grandma. She has little to do here except mildly chastise JD, almost invalidating Jah’s statement with her easy surrender. Now, compare this scene to the one in Spike Lee’s “Clockers” where the same actress puts Jah’s notion into action by fiercely protecting her ward at any cost. Action trumps lip service.
Much of “All Day and A Night” finds Jah running with dangerous company, a crew who works for neighborhood bigwig Big Stunna (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). It’s he who gives Jah the guns to commit the opening murders. Abdul-Mateen is quite memorable here, so much so that I wanted to see more of the operation he and his female companion ran. They are the most “together” characters in the movie, as blasé about their business dealings as they were cunning. Jah’s running partner and Big Stunna’s employee, TQ (Isaiah John) teases him for working in a shoe store but supports his dreams of becoming a rapper. You already know what’s going to happen to both those rap dreams and Jah’s friendship.
The scenes with JD and Jah in prison don’t really register. They are clearly the film’s ultimate destination, but what exactly are we to glean from them? It appears that JD has little wisdom for Jah and neither Cole’s script nor his direction stick the landing vis-à-vis any kind of cautionary tale for Jah’s own son. For all of Cole’s comments about empathy in the press materials, “All Day and A Night” is terrified of its male characters showing weakness, fully embracing their sorrow or allowing us to care. What’s left is the type of derivative “hood movie” I remain tired of seeing and even more tired of reviewing. I grew up in the type of environment JD and Jah inhabit, and though there was hard times, violence and death, there was also joy, pleasure and even happiness. Unlike far too many movies of this ilk, we weren’t too afraid to show it.