‘Sleight’ Review – The Kind of “Comic Book” Movie We Need More Of

5.0
of 5
Review Essentials
  • A near perfect experience
  • Strong characters
  • A focus on drama
  • Well-paced and appropriately tense
  • A powerful and exciting climax
  • Tells a complete story

Bo (Jacob Latimore) is doing everything he can to take care of his little sister Tina (Storm Reid) after the death of their mother. By day, he performs street magic for Los Angeles tourists. By night, he’s a low stakes drug dealer for a powerful kingpin named Angelo (Dulé Hill). when his criminal life begins to escalate in ways he didn’t expect, Bo does his best to get out with one big deal. But when things go south, he’s forced to use his prowess as a magician to make things right. And Bo has something a lot more surprising than an ace up his sleeve…

The Comic Book Influence

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There's more to Bo's magic than meets the eye...

It’s fascinating to see how much comic book cinema has influenced our appraisal of other genre films. A movie like Chronicle is labeled as a superhero story when it really is a sci-fi film that utilizes comic book storytelling devices in interesting new ways. The same can be said of Sleight. There are tropes and elements that take inspiration from things like Iron Man, but the film itself isn’t overly stylized or presented in a “comic book” fashion. Sleight is a character drama through and through with one little twist that makes it stand out amongst the crowd.

It’s exhilarating to see director J.D. Dillard take a clear love of comic book structure and apply it to a refreshingly grounded story. Dillard understands that we have to spend time with Bo and understand why he’s decided to take this path. It’s great that the film never judges him for his decision but rather makes us sympathize with his story every step of the way. Granted, a lot of that is helped by Latimore’s wonderfully understated but believable performance. He’s not doing anything big or showy but that’s perfect for the character. And when things do finally get big, it pays off in glorious ways.

Pacing, Pacing, Pacing

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Bo performs card magic for some onlookers

And that’s one of Sleight‘s most effective tools: it takes its time and lets things build organically. A lot of genre films feel the need to escalate too quickly or pepper their story with bombastic action beats. Sleight is uncharacteristically low-key for what most people might expect. That’s excellent. It’s not a movie that’s concerned with checking off studio-mandated boxes about action or spectacle. Sleight knows the story it wants to tell and does it at its own pace. Some might find that “slow” but it’s not. It’s measured and deliberate and crescendos to a climax that had me restraining myself from exploding with joy.

I keep mentioning this climax and I really don’t want to spoil it. It’s best to go into this movie as blind as possible. There isn’t necessarily a twist – I’m being purposefully coy but you can figure out what’s going on pretty easily – but how the final showdown plays out is in such an impressive and satisfying way that I don’t want to give anything away. It takes the concept to a logical conclusion that feels more awesome than almost any large scale superhero beatdown.

Is Sleight Good?

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Bo's haul from a night of successful slinging

Sleight is one of the best movies of the year. It has all the good hallmarks of an independent production but the spirit of something much more grandiose. It’s got heart, ingenuity, and does something very special with its influences. Don’t be surprised if you see J.D. Dillard’s name start popping up for some Marvel or DC film adaptations. This film has earned him that right. Truthfully, I hope he just gets to keep making movies like Sleight, even if there are no superheroic feats involved.

Drew Dietsch
Drew Dietsch has written for CHUD.com, the News-Press, WhatCulture, and releases a weekly film review podcast, The Drew Reviews Podcast. He'll yak your ear off about horror movies, Jaws, RoboCop, and/or Batman if you let him.