Over time, specific genres or subgenres of film fall by the wayside. After all, tastes will constantly shift from generation to generation and creatives will want to focus on the genres that excite them. We’ve had musicals fall from grace, Westerns ride off into the sunset, and blaxploitation films find their time in the spotlight over. They always do reappear and it’s a pleasant change of pace when they do. So learning that Cinnamon was a modern-day tribute to blaxploitation films of the 70s, I had to at least give it a go. Besides, it was something to look forward to besides all of the documentaries I had on my plate.
And I’m glad I did since Cinnamon, which will release on Tubi next week, is probably the best thing I’ve seen during the entire Tribeca Film Festival at this point.
Director: Bryian Keith Montgomery Jr.
Release Date: June 11, 2023 (Tribeca Film Festival), Tubi (June 23, 2023)
Jodi (Hailey Kilgore) is stuck in a small town working at a crappy little gas station for a wanna-be bigshot player Wally (Damon Wayans), who is almost certainly not on the up and up and exudes shadiness. She wants to skip town to try and make it as an actress out West, but she doesn’t have the money to do it. However, she falls in love with Eddie (David Iacono), one of her old acquaintances from high school who moonlights as a petty thief that will help her in any way possible to get the cash. Together, the two of them plan a robbery of the gas station, but in the process discover a large drug smuggling ring led by an intimidating, deaf, and blind Pam Grier that is going to get a whole lot of people killed.
As a blaxploitation film, Cinnamon hits a handful of the tropes you would expect from the genre. The vast majority of the cast is black, there’s tons of swearing and cursing and plenty of violence. There’s not much in the way of showing systemic oppression or any comments on race really, but more telling a story that’s reminiscent of Reservoir Dogs where we’re meant to piece together all of the events leading up to the gas station robbery and figure out how everyone and everything is connected. The film is even divided into three parts and a prologue, each focusing on a different character and their relationship to the whole situation.
For as short as this film is (it clocks in at just barely over 90 minutes), the cast all feel well-developed and believable. We feel for Jodi and Eddie as they talk about their future and what they’re willing to do to make it big. We laugh at Wally and his pathetic attempts to make it big and fail at virtually every opportunity. This is a guy whose big path to power is setting up a used car dealership, how can you not find that just a wee bit pathetic? The members of the drug smuggling ring all exude confidence and charm but can easily flip that into menace and fright. Despite saying only a few lines, Pam Grier is solid as this dominating figurehead that can make even a complete nobody afraid of her utterance of a single word. It can be a bit hokey at times, especially when Grier determines who lives and dies by flipping the shades of her glasses, but I think that’s part of the film’s retro throwback where you had antagonists with a goofy gimmick.
Whether intentional or not, the tension that develops over the course of Cinnamon’s runtime is the real deal. This is a thriller, so watching each character slowly realize what happened at the gas station and who each character can trust keeps the film moving at a brisk pace. When the violence does take place, it’s satisfying in a grizzly way. It’s not glamorous like when a horde of goons get shot down in an over-the-top fashion, but quick and dirty. A knife pinning a person’s hand to a desk. A bullet to the hand. Someone getting beaten with a sturdy branch. When you see people get hurt, it looks like they hurt, selling this as a crime movie with consequences, leaving us with a climax that will make you question if Jodi and Eddie can make it out alive and who’ll be dead by the time the credits roll.
Cinnamon isn’t going to set the world on fire, but it’s a fun little movie that successfully homages blaxploitation movies with some modern flair and twists. The cast is solid, the pacing works, and there’s very little here to actually criticize other than maybe the slow start to the film’s third chapter. Other than that, since this is premiering on a free streaming service very shortly, you shouldn’t miss out on what is probably going to be one of the year’s most underrated films. Give it a shot, and you’ll have a pretty solid time.