In the near future, London subsidized housing has disappeared, the only recourse for the downtrodden squatting with communities subjected to police raids. Izi (rapper Kano) has been working at the Life After Life ecological funeral home, saving up to move into a legitimate apartment, when he witnesses the now orphaned 12 year-old Benji (newcomer Jedaiah Bannerman) grieving his mother, Izi’s ex-girlfriend. Taking pity on the boy while denying the obvious, Izi must choose between his long laid plans or caring for the boy in the squalor of “The Kitchen.”
Laura's Review: B-
Award winning short director Kibwe Tavares makes his feature directorial debut along with Oscar winning actor Daniel Kaluuya, who also cowrote with "American Animals" scribe Joe Murtagh, in a film with a simple, universal story enhanced with imaginative world building. Tavares leaned on his architectural background while working with production designer Nathan Parker to fashion a world referencing everything from African marketplaces to “Blade Runner” to prisons, the Kitchen’s exterior resembling pyramids built with Lego blocks. The screenplay places a young boy between a father figure and charismatic criminal, not unlike 2022’s “Bruiser,” in a world where biker gangs strike out when they are not under siege by militaristic police, shades of 2022’s “Athena” and Ladj Ly’s 2019 modern, urban take on “Les Misérables.” In a device popularized by 1979’s “The Warriors,” The Kitchen is guided by the voice of radio pirate DJ Lord Kitchener (former footballer Ian Wright) who directs its occupants to water and supplies, warns of police raids and spins some fabulous and spins vintage cuts from the likes of Fela Kuti.
Izi has little in the way of community spirit, evinced by his long shower as a line of residents backs up waiting for the privilege. He’ll tell his coworker, Jase (Demmy Ladipo), how much he hates The Kitchen while Jase defends its common law camaraderie. Izi’s only days away from moving into his single occupancy Buena Vida unit when Benji approaches him after his mom’s funeral, admiring his motorbike and after a defensive conversation, circles back to offer the kid a ride.
Benji will return home alone to find electricity shut down and a wrapped birthday gift left by his mom, a new, collapsible red bicycle and promptly rides it back to The Kitchen to look for Izi. Instead he attracts the notice of biker gang leader Staples (Hope Ikpoku Jr) who, impressed with the kid’s chutzpah in protecting his property, invites him to bunk in with the group who rob outside of The Kitchen to aid the community. Benji makes points the next morning when he downs a police drone with a rooftop slingshot. But when Izi sees who Benji’s fallen in with, he invites the kid to bunk in with him for his last two days in The Kitchen, warning that Staples’ band would leave him behind should they be broken up by the cops.
While the screenplay repeats itself, bouncing Benji’s loyalty back and forth as Izi wrestles with his conscience, the acting helps keep us invested, especially by newcomer Bannerman, who’s been given a breakout role here. Director of photography Wyatt Garfield reveals the menace behind Ikpoku Jr’s group with their aggressive highway corralling before the actors do, their heists genial towards their marks until a third act raid of violence necessary to open Benji’s eyes. Ladipo provides a nice counterpart to Kano when it is revealed he’s been living in The Kitchen with a daughter younger than Benji, a girl he does everything to protect.
While “The Kitchen” doesn’t break new ground, it is a well directed political thriller grounded by its father son story. Tavares and Kaluuya are a team to keep an eye on.
Robin's Review: C+
"The Kitchen" begins streaming globally on Netflix on 1/19/24.