'Cargo': Film Review

Kargo Productions
A familiar story in an unfamilar setting.
6/7/2019

A fisherman turns to human smuggling out of desperation in Kareem Mortimer's Bahamian thriller.

It's rare to see a film set in the Bahamas in which a character like James Bond doesn't figure prominently. Even rarer is to see a film from the Bahamas, such as Kareem Mortimer's thriller. While lacking technical finesse and being too sluggishly paced for its own good, Cargo delivers plenty of singular atmosphere in its all-too-timely tale of a fisherman turned human smuggler.

The deeply flawed but sympathetic central character, Kevin (British actor Warren Brown, best known for his recurring role on the BBC series Luther), is an American expat fisherman whose business is struggling. Kevin has more than his share of problems. His bitterly unhappy wife (Persia White) is sick and tired of taking care of Kevin's mother, who is so dementia-addled she smears her bedroom walls with feces. And his teenage son is enrolled in a private school which Kevin, thanks to his lack of a steady income and a serious gambling problem, can't afford. In fact, his son will be expelled unless Kevin can come up with $16,000, and fast.

Kevin thinks he's found a solution to his problems when he's given the opportunity for a meeting with Major (Craig Pinder, making his villainous character highly entertaining), whose illicit business involves smuggling Haitian refugees to another island where they are then transported to the U.S. Of course, Major doesn't think of himself as a smuggler. "I provide a service, almost like a travel agent," he patiently explains, sounding like Sydney Greenstreet in The Maltese Falcon. "I consider myself to be in the transportation business."

Kevin takes easily to his new line of work, quickly making enough money to placate his wife by hiring a caretaker, Mona (Sky Nicole Grey), an illegal Jamaican immigrant. He pays off his debts to the school and elsewhere, and begins an affair with Celianne (Gessica Geneus), a Haitian waitress and single mother desperate to get herself and her young son to Miami, where her elderly mother is now living.

Cargo feels authentically textured in its depiction of Kevin's illicit profession. One of the film's most memorable scenes shows his boat being stopped by government officers who know exactly what he's up to. "Let me guess. Personal reasons, right?" one of the men asks Kevin about his reason for his being out at sea.

The pic is stronger on atmosphere than plotting, however. The dialogue is riddled with clichés, and the supporting characters too often feel like archetypes. The profusion of subplots detracts from the narrative momentum, with the result that the proceedings feels bloated and overlong. It may be true that everything is slower paced in the tropics, but writer-director Mortimer (Children of God) should have known that "leisurely" is not a desirable adjective when it comes to thrillers.   

Still, the exoticism of the setting and the strong lead performances by Brown and Geneus help to sustain interest. It's not likely to be endorsed by the Bahamian tourist board, but Cargo makes you realize that the islands have more interesting aspects than sun and surf.

Production company: Kargo Production
Distributor: Artists Rights Distribution
Cast: Warren Brown, Gessica Geneus, Omar Dorsey, Sky Nicole Greay, Jimmy Jean-Louis, Persia White, Jamie Donnelly, Craig Pinder
Director-screenwriter: Kareem Mortimer
Producers: Alexander Younis, Kareem Mortimer, Trevite Willis, Nicole Sylvester, Kristie Lutz
Executive producer: Alexander Younis
Director of photography: Ian Bloom
Production designer: Margot Bethel
Editor: Phyllis Housen
Costume designer: Elizabeth Kirby

112 minutes