Toronto 2020: Akilla’s Escape

Akilla's Escape. Courtesy of TIFF.

Akilla’s Escape weaves together two different timelines in Brooklyn and Toronto while tackling social issues that remain in the limelight.

During a drug trade-gone-bad, Akilla Brown (Saul Williams) captures a teenage and mute Jamaican boy, Sheppard (Thamela Mpulmwana).  His youth comes back to him when Akilla learns that Sheppard is a affiliated with the Garrison Army.  It just so happens that Akilla’s grandfather founded the Jamaican crime syndicate.  Akilla left the life some time ago and only recently became legit with growing cannabis.  Sure, it may be a secretive operation but the government also made such growth legal.  And so this is where we find Akilla on summer night before all goes terribly wrong.

In Akilla’s Escape, filmmaker Charles Officer spans some fifty years across Jamaica, Brooklyn, and Toronto to tell a character study–one that is grounded in a crime noir.  Flashbacks take us back to Brooklyn where Akilla’s father, Clinton (Ronnie Rowe Jr.), grooms him to one day take over the operation.  His mother, Thetis (Olunike Adeliyi), wants him to go on a different path.  Soon, Akilla finds himself having to blaze his own path.

Telling parallel stories can be hard to keep up with at times.  As viewers, we have to realize when such a timeline switch is taking place.  We saw it this summer in Da 5 Bloods from director Spike Lee–of course, he did so in a way that worked for the budget.  Where Lee used the same cast as their younger selves, Officer utilizes actor Thamela Mpulmwana in dual roles: Sheppard and the younger Akilla Brown.

Bob Marley’s “Punky Reggae Party” expertly plays during the film’s opening montage.  Williams also composed the film’s score with Robert “3D” Del Naja.  Another Williams tune, “Skin of a Drum,” co-written with Trent Reznor is also on the soundtrack.

If you pay attention closely, you’ll also notice how Officer pays homage to Homer’s Iliad.  This isn’t just echoed in the title but also in character names.  Akilla Brown is but one man but what Akilla’s Escape manages to do is point out there are so many more like him.

DIRECTOR:  Charles Officer
SCREENWRITER:  Charles Officer & Motion
CAST:  Saul Williams, Thamela Mpulmwana, Donisha Prendergast, Shomari Downer, Olunike Adeliyi, Ronnie Rowe Jr., featuring Colm Feore, with Bruce Ramsay and Vic Mensa

Akilla’s Escape holds its world premiere during the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival in the Planet Africa 25 program. Grade: 3.5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.