Sundance 2016: JD Dillard's 'Sleight' is an Exciting Directorial Debut
by Alex Billington
January 26, 2016
It's always exciting to see films at the Sundance Film Festival that mark the feature directorial debut of ambitious, talented storytellers. A majority of the films they program at the festival are small features made on extremely limited budgets that become the breakout project for many people. That is definitely the case for JD Dillard, director of the film Sleight, which is part of the NeXT category. Sleight is about a young street magician living in Los Angeles that must fight off a drug lord using his intelligence and natural talent in order to save his younger sister and win over a girl. It's a fairly simple story, but the film is still awesome.
Sleight introduces us to the lovable Bo, played by Jacob Latimore, a street magician in Los Angeles who was a top student in school, but now just gets by making what he can on the street. He's ambitious, and wants to be a real magician, which he defines as someone who can do something that no one else can. There's a Houdini poster in his bedroom that is an obvious influence on his life. There's even a scene where he escapes from handcuffs and the camera focuses on the poster in a way-too-obvious way. Dillard needs to learn to pull back on this as a storyteller, and let these kind of subtle moments and intriguing connections speak for themselves. Otherwise, he is already quite skilled at planning all of this out for an exciting film.
The part of the plot that involves Bo fighting the drug lord, which eventually becomes a battle between two drug lords competing over territory, is a bit cliched. We get that they seem nice until something goes wrong, and then they get nasty. We get that they're going to be violent because that's the best way for them to make a point. I wish there was a bit more to this side of the story, a bit more for Bo to have to struggle against, because it seems so basic. It represents just enough of a villain to work as the driving force for progress in the film, but doesn't add any depth to the rest of the story. His relationship with his sister is the best part.
Overall, I had a great time watching this film and I will recommend it to anyone that loves superhero movies or movies like Chronicle. It's very low budget but they're very good at hiding this fact, and they worked with the limited resources they had to build a world for this exciting story to exist in. It's also very much influenced by J.J. Abrams' "Mystery Box" mentality, keeping one of the most interesting aspects (a physical implant that helps him pull off a trick) a big mystery right through the end. As everyone knows - magicians never reveal their secrets. It's an outstanding feature debut, and I'm looking forward to Dillard's next film.
Alex's Sundance 2016 Rating: 8 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing