Movie Review: Mickey Hardaway

One-liner: Heartfelt performances and intimate docudrama compels this slow-moving yet timely, hard-hitting and poignant crime drama character portrait.

Mickey Hardaway is a black-and-white character portrait crime drama, written and directed by Marcellus Cox. Based on a short film of the same name, the feature film expands Mickey’s world, allowing many of the short film’s actors to reprise their roles for a deeper exploration. Cox gives Mickey Hardaway a docudrama feel, grappling with gritty and hard-hitting social issues. He ushers in a fly-on-the-wall perspective by slowing the dialogue to heighten the sense of realism, giving scenes an organic feel to foster spontaneity and leaning on his unknown cast’s unobtrusive abilities.

Rashad Hunter is charged with the titular role of Mickey, a young sketch artist who begins a series of therapy sessions with a renowned psychiatrist in order to get a handle on his life. Growing up in a tough neighbourhood where physical violence and verbal abuse are the currency, whether at home or at school, Mickey navigates towards the promise of a fresh start only to trigger a series of violent outbursts after repressed anger manifests into a bloody vendetta.

Hunter has a wonderful emotional intensity and sincerity that speaks to his troubled past and channels a purity of expression. His honest, unguarded approach seems constrained by deep-seated anger but Mickey’s able to nurture a glimmer of hope that rises up with guidance from his many mentors. Verging on a co-lead, it’s Stephen Cofield Jr. who plays opposite Mickey as his well-meaning psychiatrist, Dr Cameron Harden. Essentially trying to talk Mickey out of a death spiral, their sessions have an elemental sway as roles are established and power dynamics shift.

Mickey’s self-belief and immense talents as an aspiring animation artist wins him many supporters, including a teacher, guidance councillor and future employer. Dennis L.A. White, Charlz Williams and Samuel Whitehill fulfill these gatekeeper roles with heartfelt compassion as if guardian angels, trying to rescue Mickey’s soul from the clutches of circumstance. There’s an uncommon care and sincerity in these intimate interactions as Mickey learns to trust authority figures in his life and unhitch from a history of physical and verbal abuse.

The ensemble pull together quite beautifully, leveraging previous performances to add a sense of history and welcoming a number of fresh faces to the fray. David Chattam and Gayla Johnson deserve special mention for their gutsy performances as Mickey’s parents, capturing haunting generational trauma and a cloying futility. Not unlike the domestic abuse at the heart of Once Were Warriors, the tragic intensity is ever-present as Mickey tries to cut the apron strings. Ashley Parchment rounds off the main cast with a refreshing and spunky turn as Mickey’s sunbeam, pride and joy… aptly named Grace.

mickey hardaway movie

“Mickey, Mickey, Mickey…”

The choice to film in black-and-white gives Mickey Hardaway an indie edge but seeks to explain Hardaway’s jaded outlook. Breaking away for a brief moment to allow colour to filter back into frame adds emotional power. Subverting the harsh black-and-white world, reveals a playfulness and joy missing from Mickey’s everyday experience of life as personified in Grace. While this concept could have been reproduced a few more times, powering home once keeps it from becoming too gimmicky.

Cox’s film has a natural patter when it comes to just about every element. The dialogue has a spontaneity, the performances don’t seem coerced, the artful visuals have a flow and there’s a sure-and-steady feel to the edit. Mickey Hardaway has a non-linear narrative, mostly interrupted by a flashforward, which does throw the protagonist in the deep end. However, as bold as it is to cast doubt on Mickey from the get-go, it’s the rewind and intimacy of discovering just how things came to pass that effectively draws one’s empathy and understanding.

Mickey Hardaway serves as a timely social commentary on self-sustaining narratives, socio-economic hardships, domestic violence and even police conduct. As a slow-moving black-and-white social drama with a poignant message, much like Waves, Mickey Hardaway is niche and not geared towards mainstream audiences. While the film’s values have far-reaching importance and implications, it’s the kind of indie gem that would take some serious word-of-mouth to truly catch alight. Based on this powerful and heartfelt effort, it does seem like the kind of film that will grow in stature with Marcellus Cox’s future endeavours as a retrospective.

While this modest character portrait is more than proficient, demonstrating a control over the medium and powering through as a passion project, it could have had more technical finesse. Budgetary constraints do foster greater creativity and luckily for Mickey Hardaway, the grittier docudrama undertone makes it easier to forgive its flaws. Holding itself to a higher account, there are a few moments that could have benefitted from a more elegant touch but for the most part this indie crime drama portrait showcases the talents of a socially-conscious filmmaker. Doing something powerful and remarkable at this level, demonstrates Cox’s vision and promise, which can only be amplified and embroidered by bigger projects.

The bottom line: Hard-hitting