New Filmmakers Josh and Jonathan Baker Adapt Their 2013 Short Film Into One Of 2018’s Best Films. Completely Original, Smartly Written, Beautiful Visual Effects & A Spectacular Direction That Will Lead Them To Being The Next Steven Spielberg. “Kin” Is Ambitious But The Material Pays Off In Their Attention To Detail & Character Development. “Kin” Is Incredible Experience I Will Never Forget.
First-time big screen directors Jonathan and Josh Baker don’t take it easy and are quite ambitious with their feature debut, “Kin”. A family drama masquerading as a sci-fi action, road trip, crime thriller all at once. “Kin” is an expansion of their 15 minute short film “Bag Man” from 2014. The Baker brothers “Kin” is like this weekend’s other new film, “Searching” in that it’s a late summer surprise and is so much better than the marketing materials set it out to be. The material pays off in the Baker brothers attention to detail and their commitment to the characters, which they clearly have a fondness for. The Bakers’ ambition pays off in a genre film, with more emotional investment and originality than most films this time of year.
Just from the trailer alone “Kin” looks like Netflix material. Watching the film unfold in theaters confirms the Netflix feel. “Kin” would have been a great vehicle for Netflix as an original series or movie. With the story’s vastness, it could easily continue it’s storyline on the Netflix platform. “Kin” has a pretty cool setup that someone like James Cameron might have dreamed up and he probably did at one point. Taking this poor family from Detroit, giving them a weapon of amazing power and obvious value, and send a couple of alien terminators, plus a psychotic crimelord, in pursuit of them. Jack Reynor of “Transformers: Age Of Extinction” and “Free Fire”, plays Jimmy an ex con brother who returns from jail to discover his dad Hal played by the always reliable Dennis Quaid, now favors his adopted African American brother Elijah. Jimmy is unable to pay off a substantial debt with local gangster Taylor played by James Franco who mashes his performances from “SpringBreakers” and “HomeFront”.
When a planned robbery of Hal’s construction business goes wrong, Jimmy takes off with $60,000, inadvertently pulling Elijah into the escape. Making plans to cross the country, bonding as brothers, Jimmy and Elijah make tentative steps toward a relationship. Along the way they pick up a kindly exotic dancer played by musician Lenny Kravitz’s daughter Zoe Kravitz (“Gemini”, “Mad Max Fury Road”, “Dope”). However, the parolee can’t control his urges, and when Jimmy starts making trouble again with his newfound money, Elijah is put into the position of protection, armed with a destructive alien rifle he found inside an abandoned factory. What they don’t know is that the gun has been signaling the weapon’s true owners to retrieve it, who remain in close pursuit of the bothers, along with James Franco’s Taylor who is out to get Jimmy no matter who stands in his way.
Director Shawn Levy (“Date Night”, “Real Steel”, “Night At The Museum” and “This Is Where I Leave You”) brings his production company 21 Laps, to produce their second big sci fi tale this month following their box office disappointment “The Darkest Minds”. Levy tries to do for the big screen what he did for Netflix with “Stranger Things”. Also serving as producer is “Creed” and “Black Panther” star Michael B Jordan.
Directors Jonathan and Josh Baker also wrote the script with Daniel Casey. They know how to keep the action running and also how to make it quirky enough to feel fresh while still holding on to some basic elements of a “chase” movie. Plus they know how to get the right actors in the right roles. Reynor who does his best impression of Paul Walker, gives Jimmy a certain empathy that goes a long way toward making it palatable. Reynor creates a persona that can come off as both an all good or all bad character. He plays it right down the middle and keeps you guessing. James Franco is also top notch as he once again makes being slimy look easy. The story itself rests on the shoulders of newcomer Myles Truitt in his first film role after playing characters in TV series “Atlanta”, “Queen Sugar”, and “Black Lightning”. He plays Eli as a true fourteen year old, who sometimes acts mature and at times acts like a kid. It is a breakout performance and should lead to bigger and better roles for the young actor.
Given the PG-13 rating, “KIN” has it’s share of violence and language. The final assault and climax action sequence on a police station is memorably intense. It’s during the firefight we get a visual display of cosmic prowess in which we see the Bakers unleash some impressive CGI effects, making the most of what must have been a modest budget. No doubt taking a page from their short-film experience, the Bakers save the best for last, including a major cameo that is both worth the wait and suggestive of a wider story to tell in hopeful future installments. Directors Jonathan & Josh Baker stuff so much world building into the last 15 minutes of the rushed finale that it’ll make you side blinded. The climax feels as if it opens itself to a bigger and better season two. I do hope the Baker brothers and Summit can work something out to release “Kin 2” theatrically. If not I hope Netflix opens their doors to the bothers and let them run wild with their creation in either an original series or movie franchise/trilogy.
The real heart of the film is the relationship between Elijah and Jimmy. The brothers develop a deep bond as they travel. Jimmy, who makes a lot of bad decisions, learns the hard way how to be a big brother. Elijah, a loner with no friends finds a best friend in his brother. “Kin” has a strong emotional core. Jack Reynor and Myles Truitt have excellent sibling chemistry. “Kin’s” finale drops several epic reveals, which I thought they were clever. Although I wanted to learn and know more right there and then instead of leaving me at a cliffhanger of sorts. The bombshells may seem out of nowhere, but all the clues were carefully laid out. The breadcrumbs don’t resonate because they’re so casually placed. There are a few things I spotted that references the original “Bag Man” short film. “Kin” doesn’t spoon feed the answers, as a few questions are left wide open. Kin also leaves you with a helluva hook. A bigger mystery awaits in the potential sequel. Please make a sequel! Based on the groundwork laid here, even though this is familiar territory it is told from a fresh perspective. The Bakers should be afforded the opportunity to expand on their story. Here’s one fan begging you Lionsgate and/or Netflix…Please.
GRADE: ★★★★1/2☆ (4 & 1/2 out of 5)
•Review originally written on September 18, 2018. Review written for Facebook, I was not yet writing reviews for MauiWatch.com yet nor was I accepted as a member of The Hawai’i Film Critics Society.