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I Don’t Feel Like Myself Anymore

There’s a moment late in the new indie drama Mickey Hardaway where we hear repeated audio from newscasts. Each anchor uses nearly the same phrasing when they say, “a Black male, mid-twenties, with a gun.” That phrasing conjures a mental picture. That mental picture is the first link in a chain, one that ends in decisions, policies, the pulling of a trigger. 

A certain politician, who shall remain nameless, responded to a mental picture similar to that with the phrase, “superpredators. Another politician, also one who will remain nameless, wrote, “I recently watched a newscast trying to explain the “anger” in these young men. I no longer want to understand anger. I want them to be afraid.” Also in response to a similar mental picture.

Who exactly is the Black male, mid-twenties, with a gun? It all depends, since that mental picture is both unrealistic and hyperrealistic. It’s large, it contains multitudes. One of them is the subject of Marcellus Cox’s Mickey Hardaway, and that specificity is a stroke of genius. Cox knows that it’s always been tragically, irrevocably true that hurt people hurt people.

When we first see Mickey (Rashad Hunter), he’s drawing. The first thing we notice is that he’s a gifted artist. He’s subtle, able to capture on paper the small intricacies of character that manage to elude even gifted photographers. The second thing we notice is the gun. It rests on Mickey’s table, and he looks at it, considering. He tells his therapist, Dr. Harden (Stephen Cofield Jr.) about his hatred of people, and soon enough, we’ll understand why.

We see Mickey as a young boy (Blake Hezekiah). Back in school, he has a gift. That gift is noticed by Sweeney (Dennis L.A. White), his teacher. Sweeney wants Mickey’s artistic skill to be encouraged, nourished. He accompanies Mickey home and explains to Mickey’s father, Randall (David Chattam), about an afterschool art program. Randall scoffs at the idea. Sweeney persists. Randall accuses Sweeney of being a pedophile, attacks him, then threatens Sweeney with death if he returns.

It’s all tough love. That’s the way Randall views his crushing of Mickey’s dream. What possible good can art do for his son? A Black man? In America? Randall knows best, and he’ll beat Mickey’s dream out of him if necessary. And what about Mickey’s mother, Jackie (Gayla Johnson)? She protests, wants everyone to get along. In the end, when it really counts, she does nothing.

Time passes. Mickey becomes a young man. He becomes estranged from his family, and strikes out on his own, determined to make it as a cartoonist. A recommendation from Sweeney gets Mickey onto the radar of Hammerson (Samuel Whitehill). He’s a producer with an eye for talent, and right out of the gate, he emits “You can’t trust this guy” vibes. Mickey takes a chance. He figures maybe it’ll work out, and besides, he’s got his girlfriend Grace (Ashley Parchment) by his side. Things don’t work out, and a slow and inexorable downward spiral continues.

Look, Mickey Hardaway is not what I would call a fun time at the movies. It’s necessary, though, and very powerful. Director Marcellus Cox has made a sharp and perceptive film about abuse, how it accumulates, how it can be overcome in theory, and how it can crush a human being under its psychological weight. Cox’s pacing is precise and deliberate. He allows scenes to run as long as needed, so that we can observe the characters and watch their behavior. The film is shot in a gritty black and white, with the exception of one sequence. It’s a smart choice, since that decision to shift from black and white to color gives us a window into Mickey’s state of mind.

Cox’s screenplay is a nuanced look at the way abuse travels through generations. It digs deep into how Mickey ticks, and we see him suffer, spiral, refuse help, ask for help, fail, and occasionally triumph. The script does such smart work in both creating three-dimensional characters and portraying them organically. There were multiple moments where my empathy for Mickey was off the charts, and I kept thinking, “This is going to blow up in your face, don’t do that!” Eliciting that kind of an emotional response is the hallmark of great screenwriting.

As the title character, Rashad Hunter nearly single handedly takes the film to the next level. For such a relatively young actor, he effectively channels Mickey’s pain, rage, and moments of hope. Hunter knows when to go big on the emotion, and when to tightly lock them down for maximum impact. His supporting cast does equally strong work, and they all deliver characters that feel well defined and genuine.. One actor who needs to be singled out is David Chattam, as Randall. As Mickey’s father, Randall is an abuser who abuses. He thinks he’s doing his son a favor, yet he simply can’t get past his seething rage toward the world and his place in it. It could be a one note performance, but Chattam allows for extremely brief moments of vulnerability. Most times it only happens for a second or two. Watch Chattam, and you’ll see he shows us this man’s fear, remorse, and something that he thinks is love, then he slams the shields down.

Mickey Hardaway is about a Black male, mid-twenties, with a gun. On the surface, that is. More importantly, it’s about a talented artist, a son who loves his mother and craves his father’s approval, a man entering into a new relationship who’s positively giddy since he seems to have found the one. It’s about pain that doesn’t stop and a character trying desperately to climb out of a very deep hole. This is one of the best films of 2024.



Tim Brennan Movie Critic

Tim has been alarmingly enthusiastic about movies ever since childhood. He grew up in Boulder and, foolishly, left Colorado to study Communications in Washington State. Making matters worse, he moved to Connecticut after meeting his too-good-for-him wife. Drawn by the Rockies and a mild climate, he triumphantly returned and settled down back in Boulder County. He's written numerous screenplays, loves hiking, and embarrassed himself in front of Samuel L. Jackson. True story.

 

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