The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape
Send this page to Twitter!  

THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Five Star

Back in the early- to mid-90s, there was a wave of pictures somewhat derogatorily referred to as “hood movies.” They examined the harsh realities of life in the inner city. You know the titles: Boyz N the Hood, Menace II Society, Juice, etc. They were unflinching films, often very violent. We still get one every once in a while. HBO's brilliant series The Wire picked up on many of the same themes in the '00s, advancing them with a journalistic approach in examining the mechanics of gang life and the drug trade (among many other things). Now the torch is picked up by Five Star, a thoughtful film that explores masculinity and family among gang members.

There's an interesting blurring of the line between fiction and documentary here. James “Primo” Grant, a member of the Bloods gang since age 12, plays Primo, a character who shares the same history. A “five star” (i.e. top leader) in the gang, he is starting to second-guess his lifestyle now that he has four children at home. With this shift in mind, he takes a young man named John (John Diaz) under his wing. John's late father was Primo's own mentor, so he views this as a chance to offer some positive payback. The kid is very interested in making fast money, although it's unclear how seriously he takes the job delivering packages of drugs and cash back and forth. He also wants answers about his father's death.

Five Star is fiction, but it's filmed in verite style so that it has a strong fly-on-the-wall feeling. Early scenes are dedicated to Primo teaching John the ropes, trying to make sure he understands exactly what he's getting into. There's a fascinating dynamic here: a young man eager to live the lifestyle that's been glamourized for him is tutored by a guy who's seen the worst parts of the game, and is therefore eager to leave it behind. Partway through, the focus shifts very slightly. Now empowered by his position working for one of the Blood leaders, John becomes bold enough to start asking the questions about his father that he's always been too afraid to bring up.

The movie is presented in a very slice-of-life way, as though we're following these characters around throughout their normal days. Sometimes there are long dialogue-filled scenes, other times just inconsequential moments that convey the atmosphere of the environment they inhabit. The overt lack of a formal plot may lead some to deem Five Star “slow” and, in moments, it is. But if you pay attention, you can see that themes are carefully, deliberately being nurtured. They pay off meaningfully in the film's final moments, when the father/son dynamic between Primo and John takes a different, ironic turn. It becomes clear that “family” is a big motivator for both of them.

James “Primo” Grant is electrifying in the lead role. Although not a professional actor, he knows the world Five Star takes place in. His performance is one of total authenticity. What's most amazing, though, is that he's just as effective in the emotion-based scenes as he is in the more hard-boiled ones. He and Diaz hit every note just right, so that the changing shades of their characters' relationship ring true.

Would Five Star have been even better with a little more of a structured story? Yes. However, it succeeds in setting a tone – one that avoids cliché or stereotype and instead embraces realism. And that's the key word here: realism. Writer/director Keith Miller has made a film that never feels forced, never seems artificial. Even better, it says something about how family bonds affect everyone, no matter where you live, what you do, or how the rest of the world sees you.

( out of four)

Note: Five Star will be released in NYC on July 24, LA on July 31, and on VOD/iTunes August 4.

Five Star is unrated, but contains language, drug content, and mild violence. The running time is 1 hour and 23 minutes.

Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at!

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.