Sleight, the debut thriller from writer/director J.D. Dillard, showcases a lot of talent onscreen and behind the camera. That said, I wanted to like Sleight more than I actually did. On an emotional level, Sleight feels pretty thin. It doesn’t resonate like it should. It’s entertaining in the moment, but ultimately, forgettable. At risk of being one of those “punny” movie reviews, Sleight is, well, sleight.
Bo is a street magician who specializes in card tricks and sleight of hand. Busking by day, he sells drugs by night. Then, he’s presented with the One Last Big Job that will get him out of the criminal underworld. When things go awry, he’ll need all of his magic skills to try to save himself and the people he loves.
Sleight plays like a stew of plot points from other films. There’s the mystique of magic and Bo’s insane commitment to his craft ala The Prestige (2006). Throw in the drug deals gone bad, missing money and double crosses from Dope (2015). Add a dash of the self-destructive super powers of Chronicle (2012), bring it to a boil and you have Sleight.
On a surface level, the blend of all those elements works pretty well. Sleight is an entertaining thriller. You’re not going to hate it. If you’re scrolling through Netflix six months from now and come across it, you could do a lot worse. My chief complaint is that Sleight could have been so much more.
Where Sleight stumbles and falls is with its emotional beats. Everything feels rushed, like the relationship version of shorthand. Bo does a clever levitation trick for a girl on the street, so naturally they become an inseparable couple. In another scene, Bo is forced to do something truly heinous or face retribution from his employer. He performs the grisly task … and never thinks about it again? So, how do you create sympathy for a drug-dealing thief with a minimal conscience? Give him a dead mother and make him responsible for the cutest little sister you’ve ever seen. It’s not as manipulative as it may sound. It’s just far too simplistic.
Suspension of disbelief has never been a problem for me. Immerse me in a believable world, and you can push the boundaries of reality as far as you want. Sleight has several moments in its third act that are completely absurd, but I had no problem going along because I bought into the premise during its first 30 minutes. It’s the people, not the narrative, that begin to feel phony. Sleight is like a bogus magic trick. It’ll leave you feeling a little cheated.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.