The new Netflix drama “All Day and a Night” begins with a scene that, in most cases, would be saved until the final act. It’s not a spoiler to reveal that Jah (“Moonlight”’s Ashton Sanders) shoots and kills a couple in their home. Their daughter witnesses the murders, and shortly Jah begins his long prison sentence.
It’s quite a start. And it tasks writer/director Joe Robert Cole with the challenge of getting and keeping us interested in what led Jah to this defining moment. It’s a challenge that’s not easily met.
Cole, who co-wrote “Black Panther”, presents his story in three different time periods: the present (Jah’s experiences in prison), the recent past (13-months that led-up to the shootings) and the distant past (Jah’s troubled childhood growing-up in gang-infested Oakland, CA.).
The most interesting of the three narratives is present day. Jah is sent to the same prison where his father, J.D. (Jeffrey Wright) has been serving his life sentence for murder. On the surface this concept might seem a little hokey. But, instead we’re treated to some intriguing father-son moments set in this unique location. Unfortunately, the majority of the film takes place in the other two time periods. Early scenes between young Jah and a dreadlocked, drug-addicted J.D. (Wright handles the young version as well) aren’t nearly as powerful.
The best thing about “All Day and a Night” is Sanders. His confident screen presence carries the movie. As layers are peeled back, Sanders provides a perspective that, while not making Jah a sympathetic character, does allow us to understand what led him to make his bad choices.
Cole present a muddy, raw, though not unique look at life in the hood (a MySpace reference challenges the notion that this is a contemporary story — which it is). Not all details and storylines add-up, but there’s more than enough intensity and complexity in this script to recommend you spending part of a day or night with this film.
LCJ GRADE: B
Running Time: 121 min.