Inner City Kids Struggle with Poverty and Crime in The Land

Dec. 9, 2016
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“Do you even care about your future?” a high school counselor asks. The Land opens with a sequence of troubled students shuffling through her office, responding with aggressive apathy. The question of what’s in store for The Land’s inner city protagonists provides the film with its theme: it’s likely that, at least for some of them, there is no future.

Written and directed by Steven Caple Jr., the land in question is the decaying end of Cleveland where families are frayed, drive-by shootings are common and most residents are crowded into high-rise public housing. The troubled multi-racial teenagers at the heart of the story have a hoop dream: entering skateboard competitions. Gliding on their boards with shark-like grace through the urban squalor, they overpower drivers and jack their cars for the cash they need to enter those contests.

Problem and possibility: they steal a drug dealer’s car and find the trunk filled with high-grade MMDA, a euphoria-inducing drug that warms the coldness of everyday life. The money they make by selling allows them to buy new clothes, support their families and enter skateboard championships—but they have drawn the unwanted attention of Momma. She is Cleveland’s queenpin, a middle-aged white woman who operates an organic produce stand in a public market while keeping leash on a network of dealers and enforcers. She wants her pills back.

The characters in The Land gradually reveal their human complexity as the story explores the consequences of their actions and their situations. Caple achieves some beautiful cinematic moments in this low-budget picture, especially as Momma’s motorcycle riding thugs begin shooting their guns amidst the Roman candles and fireworks of the Fourth of July. In the end, ambiguous rays of hope spill through the cracks.

Featured at Sundance 2016, The Land is out on Blu-ray.

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