Still coping with the loss of his wife, rising attorney Jackie Styles (Mykelti Williamson) decides to move his teenage son Kholi (Bryshere Y. Gray) from South Side, Chicago to a suburban neighborhood for a fresh start. A physical confrontation with a fellow student named Brian (Kevin Quinn), who’s white, on his first day contributes to Kholi becoming the primary suspect when Brian is subsequently murdered outside of his home. This is a quick synopsis of writer/director Rhyan Lamarr’s CANAL STREET, a faith-based thriller/whodunit out now on digital and DVD.
With an all-star cast, that includes Gray (Empire‘s Hykeem Lyon) and Williamson (Fences), Mekhi Phifer (The Divergent Series: Insurgent), Woody McClain (The Bobby Brown Story), Kevin Quinn (Bunk’d), and Lance Reddick (John Wick: Chapter 3 Parabellum), “Canal Street” highlights the impact of race relations on the modern justice system.
While I don’t believe the film was as heavy-hitting in the aforementioned as it needed, I do believe it was on-point in displaying various viewpoints when it came to the fictional public/media debating Kholi’s verdict and fate.
Juxtaposed throughout the film are several cameos from real-life media personalities and shows including The Breakfast Club, The Rickey Smiley Morning Show, The Mancow Morning Show, and Good Day Windy City that ardently debate the evidence, and lack thereof, that points to Kholi’s innocence or guilt.
The film also is adept at displaying how a person’s innocence or guilt can be determined with little facts in the public’s eye, and also how an presumably neutral person – Jackie Style’s defense assistant Nancy Abbas (played by Shiri Aljadeff) – could be doubtful of a client’s innocence in the absence of certain facts.
And there is a barbershop scene – featuring Mekhi Phifer, who plays A. J. Canton a mayoral candidate and the ASA handling Kholi’s case, and Michael Beach (If Beale Street Could Talk), the owner of the shop and adversary of Canton’s prosecuting the case – that is not only a masterclass in acting but a solid example of the political tension created between community members and public officials when it comes to holding members of the same race accountable, on both sides, during high profile cases.
One of the strongest elements of the film, the faith-based father/son bond, to me could also be considered one of the weakest. I’d be remiss if I didn’t state that an absence of faith in a higher power nor the lack of a father/son relationship should be attributed to the horrible injustices faced daily by many people of color in this country. That being stated, because of the softer approach the film takes in dealing with the topic, I can see how it can be reduced to those points and alleviate the root causes of this social issue.
The title card that opens the film defines Canal Street as a, “Street existing in every society that provides equal access to opportunity without prejudice.” In theory, that’s a beautiful sentiment. In real life, and after watching news stories nationwide of cases of police brutality and murders of innocent people of color, I was not able to suspend disbelief enough while viewing to accept that such a street could exist, nor allow my faith to contradict what my eyes see almost daily in the news or on social media.
Although I feel it’s a tad preachy and parts of the narrative are a bit disconnected, I think “Canal Street” still is a satisfactory tale of injustice and faith that dynamically reflects various viewpoints and features solid acting. I would rate it 3 out of 5 on the MMTrometer. You can get additional info about the film and view its trailer at the official website here.
Until next thought, Thomasena