'Supremacy': LAFF Review

Courtesy of LA Film Fest
Topical and accomplished filmmaking overcomes genre expectations.

Danny Glover and Joe Anderson face off in Deon Taylor's intense, racially charged feature.

Constantly shifting power dynamics defy expectations in Supremacy, a gritty hostage drama propelled by nearly unrelenting racial confrontation. The film's intensity of emotion and violence could limit theatrical reach beyond receptive urban audiences, although a broad range of home entertainment formats surely awaits in ancillary.

On the day of his release from California's supermax Pelican Bay State Prison after serving 14 years for armed robbery, Aryan Brotherhood white supremacist and prison gang member Tully Fuller (Joe Anderson) meets up with Doreen (Dawn Olivieri), a driver set up by his boss inside to deliver him to his next job. Armed with two pistols and an attitude as bad as Tully's, she sets out for the drop-off point, but as night falls, an African-American sheriff's deputy pulls her truck over for a traffic stop. In a fit of uncontrolled racial rage, Tully shoots the cop dead. The two flee, but recognizing that a police dragnet can't be far behind, they ditch the truck and break into a nearby home, seeking refuge.

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Inside the sprawling old house, they discover the Walkers, a multigenerational black family, asleep in their beds except for matriarch Odessa (Lela Rochon), who hears the intruders and wakes her husband (Danny Glover) to investigate. Brandishing a baseball bat as he emerges into an upstairs hallway, Walker is met by Tully and Doreen with pistols drawn, exclaiming that a "race war" has broken out and that they're just the first wave of assailants, a claim that Walker, an ex-con himself, greets with skepticism. The pair soon hustle the entire family into one room, including daughter Cassie (Robin Bobeau) and her two kids, along with younger son Anthony (Evan Ross). Tully starts right in with a string of racial slurs, intending to intimidate the family into submission until he can devise a plan of escape. But with law enforcement blanketing the vicinity, the possibility of a getaway seems remote.

A home-invasion situation rapidly escalates into a hostage-taking as Tully considers his chances of parlaying the family for his freedom. At the same time, Walker's estranged elder son, Raymond (Derek Luke), a deputy sheriff, has become concerned about the welfare of the family, but he's reluctant to show up at the house to confront his father, still bitter and angry over his decision to pursue a law enforcement career.

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Meanwhile, the Walkers are falling victim to disunity as Anthony pushes for action, Walker — ever the ex-con — refuses to try contacting the authorities and preaches patience, and Odessa attempts to forestall any violence. After threatening her children, Tully elicits Cassie's cooperation, and she reluctantly warns him when Anthony attempts to attack, resulting in the first casualty of the confrontation.

Doreen's phone call to her contacts of imprisoned Aryan Brotherhood leader Sobecki (Anson Mount) elicits a directive to kill the entire family, but Tully isn't convinced it's the best way out, suspecting that Sobecki's associates will not be extracting them. As Tully resolves to wait through the night to assess his options the next morning, Walker sees his opportunity to start undermining his opponents' confidence and putting his own plans to free his family in motion, yet the risk of enraging Tully or Doreen could doom everyone he cares about.

Eric J. Adams' script, described as "inspired by actual events" involving an ex-con white supremacist who killed a black cop, is a constantly simmering potboiler, with a narrative that seems to shift direction nearly every quarter-hour as different parties gain the upper hand in the tense standoff inside the Walker home. This storyline inventiveness is tamped down, however, by a thematic imperative to foreground racial issues rather than develop fully dimensional characters.

Working within these limitations, the castmembers shape a fairly compelling narrative, centered on the conflict between Tully and Walker. As the recently released convict, Anderson gains a fair amount of momentum from Tully's penchant for racial conflict, but the script forces him to repeat the same behaviors that got him incarcerated in the first place, leaving few openings for character development prior to the final scenes. Glover fully masters Walker's glowering self-hatred, reflected in everything from his ambivalence toward his family to his vilification of law enforcement. Still, there's a lingering sense that if Walker were fully actualized, Glover would have him wreak holy havoc. Whether that's a missed opportunity is probably down to the film's firm determination to remain rooted in drama rather than slip into a more action-oriented genre mode.

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Olivieri, saddled with a character that one cop describes as an "Aryan Brotherhood groupie," succeeds in making Doreen almost likable, despite an ugly drug habit and a disturbingly credulous personality. Luke's role as Walker's scorned son feels superfluous and only tangentially connected to the film's central conflicts.

With filmmaking roots in horror and other genre fare, Taylor invokes some interesting cinematic choices but sometimes seems to be uneasily straddling the line between serious, intense drama and outright exploitation. Together with cinematographer Rodney Taylor, he favors a dynamic, almost exclusively handheld, camera style, which is perhaps more suitable to thrillers, but nonetheless underpins unfolding events with a pervasive sense of unpredictability.

Production companies: Hidden Empire Film Group, Media House Capital

Cast: Joe Anderson, Danny Glover, Dawn Olivieri, Lela Rochon, Anson Mount, Evan Ross, Derek Luke, Robin Bobeau

Director: Deon Taylor

Screenwriter: Eric J. Adams

Producer: Roxanne Avent

Executive producer: Shannon McIntosh

Director of photography: Rodney Taylor

Production designer: Michael Fitzgerald

Costume designer: Rhona Meyers

Editor: Richard B. Molina

Music: Michael Einziger

Sales: Preferred Content

Rated R, 110 minutes