How much time you got?
It's this question, the tag line for writer/director Marcellus Cox's feature directorial debut Mickey Hardaway, that radiates throughout this masterful indie debut that had its world premiere just this past month at the Kansas City Film Festival. This question, the words "How much time you got?", speaks to the overwhelming impact of generational trauma and bullying into which we are enveloped as we journey into the world of this young man, this Mickey Hardaway.
Mickey Hardaway, played extraordinarily by Rashad Hunter, is a promising young sketch artist who agrees to an in-house therapy session with a renowned psychiatrist as his life begans sprawling out of control after years of verbal and physical abuse have taken its toll.
In films like Mickey Hardaway, and we've all seen at least one film with subject matter similar to the film, we're either fully immersed in the brutal realities of generational or cyclical trauma or we're, alternately, subjected to the Hollywood-tinged angelic central figure whose past is easily overcome. So often, these films grounded within reality end up not feeling particularly realistic.
Mickey Hardaway feels different.
Having grown up himself in South Central LA, Cox intimately understands both interpersonal and environmental factors impacting one's development and one's ability to wrest control of those negative types, cyclical abuses, and difficult to understand truths. He also understands, however, how unexpected happenings and voices can influence all these negatives - sometimes enough and sometimes not. When the question is asked "How much time you got?," you can't help but feel the weight of generations bearing down on the question.
There's never any doubt in Mickey Hardaway that if everything goes right this young man could, just maybe, escape the clutches of this life that up to now has largely defined him. The problem, and it hangs over Mickey Hardaway, is that there are a lot of "everythings" that must go right and there's more than a little luck that must also be involved.
Good people succumb to the darkness.
Mickey Hardaway never lets us forget any of this and relative newcomer Rashad Hunter brings it all vividly to life with a performance so vibrant and alive and honest that it should have indie filmmakers everywhere knocking on his door. Hunter captures the spoken and unspoken impacts of abuse, the life-altering impact of familial bullying and how that can manifest in other places, the rage, the self-doubt, the poor choices, and the vulnerability that must be embraced if there's any hope of escape. It's a remarkable performance made even more remarkable by Cox's insightful, intuitive, and intimate storytelling.
David Chattam rattles as Mickey's father Randall, whose years of emotional and physical abuse provide the catalyst for everything that unfolds throughout Mickey Hardaway. Randall could have so easily been a one-note caricature, however, Chattam grabs the meaty role and finds all of Randall's little nuances and emotional layers. It's a tremendous performance in a difficult role.
As longtime confidante and safe harbor Grace, Ashley Parchment gives the film an intimate gravitas so honest that you can't help but wonder about Grace as the film unfolds and the possibilities rise to the surface.
Stephen Cofield Jr. soars as Dr. Cameron Harden, a sort of gut-punch performance who serves as a sort of safe space for Mickey's truths to rise to the surface yet this is also a performance that brings to mind all the inherent challenges of choosing, professionally or personally, to enter the dark spaces of these life experiences.
There are, of course, other key players throughout and it's Mickey Hardaway's strong ensemble that really brings this film so achingly to life. Dennis L.A. White excels as Joseph Sweeney, a teacher who takes a strong interest in Mickey's somehow rising above his circumstances. As guidance counselor Mr. Pitt, Charlz Williams has a similar powerful impact. Herself trapped in the volatility of home life, Mickey's mother Jackie is convincingly brought to life by Gayla Johnson. As is always true of cyclical abuse and violence, there are those who exploit it for their own good. This is perhaps brought most memorably to life by Samuel Whitehill's Nathan Hammerson. Finally, I would be remiss to not mention Blake Hezekiah's fine performance as the younger Mickey.
Lensing by Jamil Gooding is strong throughout Mickey Hardaway, always seemingly riding that line between threads of hope and shards of menace. It's remarkable work devoid of the usual cinematic tricks. Original music by Daniel Carlos Alfaro serves as a beautiful companion for the film and Gooding also edits the film with a tremendous eye for both the emotional and physical impact of the film.
Easily one of the best indie projects I've seen in 2023, Mickey Hardaway is just getting started on its festival run and should experience quite a bit of success along its journey. If justice is served, an indie distributor will snatch this one up and I eagerly anticipate future work by the tremendously gifted Marcellus Cox.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic