Dickerson's story of street kids at risk breaks no new ground. It is better than most, but not by much. Sure looks good, though. Dickerson has been the cinematographer for Spike Lee and John Sayles (Brother From Another Planet)
among others. Using a palette of rich browns, blacks, whites, deep gold and olive he often creates images strong enough to sustain us through fairly predictable turns of events in the film. Also, his four leads are always good -- with two of them, Epps and Shakur, as standouts. These four street kids are shown going about their day beset by the dangers of the street, yet gliding through fairly unscathed, until the more unstable of the group, Bishop (Shakur), says surviving is nothing more than running. It's time to stand, he says. He's opposed by Q (Epps), a talented young DJ who figures he's got more to live for than grocery store burglaries. Their natural leader, Rahim (Kain), leans to Bishop's point of view and the helpless, overweight Steel (Hopkins), whose role in the group and on the screen is basically as the butt of cheap fat jokes, follows the leader. What would be a simple enough equation is complicated by the boys' possession of a gun, the juice. Dickerson doesn't explore enough the effect of gun ownership on this little group. His setup is too long, leaving little time for the boys to deal with the permanent changes in their lives. It's probably becoming clear here that I'm trying not to give anything away, but let's just say that Dickerson doesn't really deal with the gun as “juice.” None of the other kids realize the boys have it, other kids don't defer to the group, and the group doesn't have much time to enjoy their new-found power. Juice isn't juice if no one knows you have it. Be that as it may, the movie is showing some juice of its own and adds more fuel to the growing “black wave” of American filmmaking.