Winner of the Grand Jury prize at last year’s SXSW festival, Adam Leon’s first feature Gimme the Loot tells the story of two young graffiti artists in New York who concoct a scheme to tag (“bomb” in the vernacular of the film) the Mets apple at Citi Field as a response to the actions of a rival tagging gang. Taking place over the course of a two-day heat wave in the grand tradition of Do the Right Thing, our two leads Malcolm (Ty Hickson) and Sophie (Tashiana Washington) must do what they can to scrape together enough cash to get into Citi Field and gain access to the plum tagging spot, making them legends in the community.
The charm of Gimme the Loot lies in its naturalism. These young actors entirely inhabit their roles, giving the film the same sort of raw casual appeal we’ve seen before in films like Richard Linklater’s Slacker. It’s a slice of life picture with low stakes that leisurely unfolds before you in a breezy 79 minutes. The characters (all the characters, not just the leads) feel so real that you’re immediately drawn into their world, understanding almost instinctively how important it is for Malcolm and Sophie to one-up their rivals. Leon mixes in some romantic intrigue, adding a minor love triangle subplot to spice up the relationships as our heroes hustle their way toward their goal.
Leon uses a sort of documentary/guerilla style to make the streets of New York come alive. The depths Sophie and Malcolm have to go to in order to solidify their street cred paints an incisive picture of modern-day city living below the poverty line. The actors are a joy to watch, and Gimme the Loot is an infectious little picture that even has a little more going on underneath its pleasant surface.