Swing Lowe Sweet Chariote (2013)

Description (from swinglowemovie.com):
East Tech high school’s valedictorian, Chariote Lowe, witnesses the unthinkable on the eve of her graduation: the cold blooded murder of her best friend Shannon. The shock of this horrible event splits her psyche between trying to maintain the positive environment in which her grandmother tried to provide for her and the dangers that await her in the rough Cleveland streets. To complicate matters further, Chariote finds herself attracted to Ace, a thriving local drug dealer, who introduces her to the violent realities of the hood.

Major Cast:
Phillia Thomas as Chariote Lowe, Hakeem Sharif as Ace, Melissa Thorne as Harriet, Tammi Swails as Gram, Rayshon Bonum as Snapp, Chanel Lewis as Lilly, Khadiyah Brackins as Simone, Troy Harris as Kush, Chuck D as DJ Jonny Specials

Special Features:
None (Screener)

Written and Directed by David C. Snyder


Pretty much any movie that is about “the high school valedictorian on the mean streets” you just know is not going to end well. They never do. However, having seen David C. Snyder’s previews two films THE QUIET ARRANGEMENT and DARK OF WINTER (reviews here), I knew SWING LOWE SWEET CHARIOTE wouldn’t be that simple of a tale. Snyder just doesn’t do “simple.”

SLSC starts out kinda what you’d expect; Chariote is a high school girl and along with her two BFFs she has just graduated. She lives with her grandmother, because her mother is a crazy (literally) prostitute, so she has the hard-knock life background you’d expect for the gritty urban street drama protagonist. She’s kept her head high, and stayed out of that life, and along with her two besties has graduated while avoiding being a part of the streets. Not that the streets don’t try; Ace (a local all around bad guy), is really digging on Chariote and continually tries to get her attention and affection, but she has the willpower to stay out. She had the willpower, that is, until one of the trinity is murdered, and Ace jumps in on the weak point in Chariote’s life. Thus begins the downward spiral you know is inevitable in this sort of film, and then shit gets violent.

It's all downhill from here...
It’s all downhill from here…

So yes, the description I just gave could be one of a thousand crime drama films. What makes SLSC stand out from the slew of low budget, direct to video, directed by a rapper urban crime films? Well, first off, Snyder is an emcee too, so it’s not that! SLSC has a lot of pros that raise it well above the average let’s-take-advatage-of-a-few-rappers-names-and-make-a-violent-crime-movie trope. The story is good, but it’s not leaps and bounds beyond other crime films. It does have some nice twists – especially when you see Chariote start to go from being the innocent kid that was wrapped up in something bigger than she meant to be to really accepting her new role as a gangsta and embracing it – and it does have some good drama, romance, and even some laughs here and there (though they are few and far between). The acting is mostly hit with some misses, with the major roles of Chariote and Ace being extremely well portrayed and completely believable, the majority of the secondary cast being strong as well (the BFFs, Snapp, Harriet, etc.) while some of the lesser roles (I’m looking at you Gram) not living up to the bar the major players set.

A nice wide shot showing how it's just Chariote and Ace in this world now.
A nice wide shot showing how it’s just Chariote and Ace in this world now.

What Snyder does so well is to immerse you in the story in a way that feels so natural. SLSC is a Cleveland movie, written by a Cleveland author, shot on the streets of Cleveland, and helmed by Cleveland talent. There is no artifice in the film, it all feels very true; it’s not documentary style or anything, but it doesn’t feel like there was a lot of stretching for the film to portray something that could really happen. Sure, there are bits that get to be a bit over the top (like the nightclub meeting/ambush), but they serve to play up the drama. This isn’t a documentary, so I expect that there would need to be some suspension of disbelief, but I didn’t have to suspend much, for the most part I felt like if it had opened with “Based on a True Story” I probably wouldn’t question it too much.

SLSC also is very impressive in its production values, something that I have been impressed with on all of Snyder’s films. I don’t know how much SLSC cost to make, but I know from talking with Dave that it cost a lot less than it looks like! Other than the fact that SLSC stars just about no one you’ve ever heard of (with the exception of a cameo performance by Chuck D, which is becoming one of Snyder’s signatures), SLSC could be mistaken for a big-budget feature. The camera is crisp and clean, and Snyder’s camera work always impresses. He has a way to keep the camera moving and interesting to the eye without going over-the-top, unless the scene calls for that excess. Some directors at this budget level will go with just putting a camera on a tripod and letting a scene play out, and others will go as far to the other end of the spectrum, and feel like every shot must have sweeping movements and skewed angles and 360 degree rotations; Snyder does a masterful job of finding that balance in-between. I would love to see a Blu-Ray release of this film, because I have a feeling that it was shot in HD and would look even more beautiful. Beyond just the production values of the visuals, Snyder also takes the time to make sure that there is good audio recording (a step missed by so many filmmakers, including myself on my feature), good foley work, and being a music producer/emcee that is in cahoots with Public Enemy, you know he has access to a good soundtrack.

One of my favorite shots in the film, showing Snyder's eye for composition
One of my favorite shots in the film, showing Snyder’s eye for composition

The cons on SLSC are few. I mentioned a few before; the story is interesting but not unheard before for sure, and the acting on some of the smaller roles lacks the emotional impact and realism that the major players convey. There are also some issues where I got a bit lost between scenes, almost as if there was something in there that got cut that should not have been; there are times where it seems the story advances and I felt a bit left behind. SLSC does have a bit of the generic urban drama to it; there are drugs and prostitutes and a lot of violence, but it tries and mostly succeeds to rise above that generality.

Chariote has gone from innocent to cold-blooded
Chariote has gone from innocent to cold-blooded

Overall, I greatly enjoyed SLSC. It is a heavy, hard hitting urban drama that packs a large emotional impact. I really love that it is a move that starts at the end, so you think you know the resolution to the story, and then still manages to make the end ambiguous! I don’t think I’ve seen a film manage to do that as effectively as SLSC does, for sure not at this budget level. SLSC is a tribute to Cleveland; not to the good things about Cleveland, no, but it is a film that takes a city that is not known for being a place to make movies, and makes it into a one-stop shop from the first word to the premiere. This is another strong film from Snyder, who seems to just be getting better and better, and makes me really excited to see whatever he does next. Even if it’s a European art film, I’m still gonna watch anything this man makes.


Overall 8 / 10

SLSC on the IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2915412/

SLSC is not for sale yet.

SLSC site: http://swinglowemovie.com

SLSC Poster
Swing Lowe Sweet Chariote (2013)

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