Slam

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Slam

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Slam

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Slam, the feature debut from documentary filmmaker Marc Levin, was the toast of Sundance, and there's much to respect in his gritty tale of a low-level drug-dealer-cum-street-poet who is busted and faces jail time. Set in Washington, D.C., Slam isn't your everyday 'hood movie, though it doesn't veer too far from the usual 'hood archetypes. The difference is that where many films purporting to depict life in the inner cities almost invariably (if sometimes inadvertently) end up glorifying violence, Slam's stance glorifies intelligence and personal responsibility. Awaiting bail when one of his small-fry drug deals goes awry, Saul Williams must contend with the various thugs with whom he is locked up. But instead of resorting to violence, he fights back with his formidable freestyle rhymes, which so impress one of the gang leaders trying to recruit him that the thoughtful tough pays his bail. On the outside, he hangs out with one of the prison's former teachers, Sonja Sohn, a poetry-slam regular who's also impressed with his righteous poetry. Sohn's character has faced and overcome some problems of her own, so she helps him own up to his crime and prepare for incarceration. The powerful, natural acting is right out of a documentary, and the open-ended conclusion is an equally challenging statement about the sad futility of sending young people to jail. Watch for a brief cameo by infamous D.C. Mayor Marion Barry as a judge, lecturing about the evils of drug use.

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