Man Down emerges from three years of research and hours of interviews and discussions with people in Baltimore, USA. It is steeped in the politics of today and the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
A worthy attempt to tackle a complex subject.
Taking place at the height of the 2015 riots, Man Down examines how the events impact the lives of an interracial couple. Michael Sterling (Terry Wayne Jr.) is a highly committed black social worker and activist in the city who has helped many families and young people overcome the daily hardships they face. Eva Ramirez (Camila Ascencio), his girlfriend of Mexican descent, works as a journalist. His direct involvement in events and her analytical detachment become a source of friction between them. Their bond is placed under further pressure when Eva’s estranged brother, Eddie Ramirez (Samuel Garnett), suddenly appears and attempts to pick up the pieces of a shattered relationship from where he left off. The intervention of Eddie’s friend Freddie (also Samuel Garnett), a young man of somewhat dubious background, only complicates the situation even further.
Writer/diredtor Hannah Trujillo is ‘moved by the idea of people as flawed structures’. She has two central characters who are passionate about their work but find difficulty in understanding the other person’s perspective. They have no inhibitions when expounding their own perspectives but find listening and engaging in meaningful conversation more difficult, because they both believe themselves to be right.
Realism is a merciless genre that demands the highest levels of characterisation. Wayne Jr gives two impassioned performances that clearly come from the heart. In particular, as Eddie, he encapsulates the anger and frustration of young black men growing up in the USA who are denied an identity beyond their colour. His controlled voice and rooted understanding create moments reminiscent of Barack Obama. He’s made for monologues. It’s unfortunate for Ascencio that she’s matched opposite him. There simply isn’t the earnestness and conviction in her voice to command the same credibility and she frequently appears uneasy in the role. Garnett often seems like a lost soul, but that is more the weakness of the script than his performance. He has strength, but there is a question mark hanging over the need for him to be in the play at all. The subplot often just creates confusion and detracts from the issues and the message.
Man Down is a worthy attempt to tackle a complex subject in a demanding style. The material has considerable potential but is still in need of some reworking.