Sometimes, you find independent gems that surprise you with great social messaging, acting and solid storytelling – note my 2019 review of “Canal Street.” So, I’m always open to watching and reviewing films, even if I’m not as excited about the subject matter – especially if it touches on a topic that may throw me a curveball or has actors and/or writers that I support.
With the new film DUTCH, adapted from a novel of the same name by Teri Woods, I was game (no pun intended) considering I loved her novel “True to the Game,” even if its subsequent film was not as well crafted. I am also a fan of Lance Gross – who stars as the titular character and really brought it in Matthew Cherry’s 2012 film “The Last Fall.”
Unfortunately, writer/director Preston A. Whitmore II’s movie ends up as something that either was not translated well to the screen, or something that just should have remained a book – assuming the novel is way better since I haven’t read it.
Here’s the official synopsis: DUTCH introduces a player who will use any means necessary to dominate the streets and beyond. For Bernard James, Jr. aka “Dutch” (Gross), survival is the ultimate score, and power is the deadliest high of all. There isn’t an angle he can’t work or a woman he can’t seduce. When he gains control of an African drug lord’s stolen heroin business, Dutch quickly makes it the most feared drug empire on the East Coast. Naturally, there are plenty of enemies vowing to take him down, including a vengeful Mafia heir, an ambitious DA, and a conscience-stricken former friend. With Dutch fighting for his life, while on trial, he plays the game and scores a winning hand in the face of all that betrayed him and finds justice his way – the street way.
A lot of this critique does contain slight spoilers, so please be forewarned.
The story starts out interesting enough, with a young Bernard (Gross) defending his employer – who has ties to the mob – and subsequently being nicknamed “Dutch” after a favored mafioso by the mob boss.
However, it transitions to a grown Dutch who stops at a church – with the obligatory choir singing – before a meeting to seek legal representation from top defense attorney Michelle (Natasha Marc, The Good Lord Bird).
The first indicator that the film wouldn’t exceed my expectations was when authorities showed up to arrest Dutch at the aforementioned meeting with Nina – sans a Miranda reading and no mention of his charges during his detainment.
Okay, so maybe the lack of exposition was for dramatic purposes and to extend an air of mystery, right? Wrong. This lack of thoroughness continued throughout the story – with many examples playing out in the courtroom setting during Dutch’s trial.
I’ve never seen an entire court/crime drama with as many legal inaccuracies as this film has, with even the defense attorney’s argument about circumstantial evidence ringing false – as they literally give no evidence at court for the crimes Dutch is accused of orchestrating, only examples of past crimes to count toward his character.
There’s also a major witness for the prosecution who literally testifies to his involvement in a past crime committed for Dutch, but the audience is given no information about any immunity or deals being made on his behalf. Was he going to jail, or nah? I was left feeling like the whole movie was a circumstantial mess.
And though it was nice to see actress/singer/songwriter Macy Gray (Brotherly Love, Shadowboxer) and Tyrin Turner (Fatale, Menace II Society) working, there aren’t any other positives that I wish to expound – especially where the storyline and script are concerned.
I mean at one point, Dutch’s character mentions the name of Freddie Gray like there was some semblance of how he was being treated – which was a great source of confusion for me because unlike Mr. Gray, who was mistreated and murdered by Baltimore police officers in real life, Dutch’s fictional treatment was neither written nor displayed as heinous. And he was a bona fide drug lord, criminal, even if the rationale for his arrest wasn’t given.
At forty-eight minutes in, I found myself still questioning exactly what Dutch had done to precipitate his arrest. And with the subplots being more distractions than explanations, I wasn’t left with much to keep me interested in the film’s resolution – so the finale left me more empty than satisfied.
I rate it 1.5 out of 5 on the MMTrometer.
DUTCH was released in select theaters on Friday, March 12.
Until next thought, Thomasena