The titular Akilla (Saul Williams) is a jaded, middle-aged drug dealer in Toronto planning on quitting the game. Things go wrong quickly when he arrives at one of his regular stops, arriving in the middle of a robbery. Akilla manages to knock out one of the thieves, a teenager named Shepard (Thamela Mpumlwana). Akilla sees himself in the boy (in a much more literal case with Mpumlwana playing both Shepard and the younger version of Akilla in flashbacks), and resolves to both recover the stolen items and prevent Shepard from repeating the violent cycle he endured as a youth, all over the course of a single night.
The film frequently alternates between two time periods: Akilla’s present situation in present-day Toronto, and his introduction to the life of crime in 1995 New York City. The whole film is impressively shot, with the Toronto-set scenes making beautiful use of colors and darkness to lend to its neo-noir style. The music is equally as cool as the look, with 3D from Massive Attack laying the score. The strongest parts of the film reside mainly with the two leads. Saul Williams brings an impressive amount of depth to Akilla. He manages to maintain a presence of wearinessand empathy while also maintaining an air of someone you don’t want to mess with.
Additionally, Thamela Mpumlwana is a true up-and-coming talent in the making. As Shepard, he is mostly doing the standard aggressive teenager role, whereas with young Akilla, he truly gets to shine and showcase some real emotional range. He has to grapple with caring for his mother and dealing with a stepfather that eventually brings him into the life he currently lives. Unfortunately, the same can’t fully be said for most of the supporting cast. There aren’t any distinctly bad performances, they aren’t exactly written as well as the leads. They all feel less like people and more like stock characters needed to fit the genre. The only real exception is Ronnie Rowe as Akilla’s father. While the film is only just 90 minutes, the slower, deliberate pacing and lack of any real action sequences means things can feel a bit sluggish around the halfway point.
Regardless, I still found myself enjoying Akilla’s Escape. Despite its faults, I still found it to be a very cool, low-key neo-noir with an interesting setting and very engaging lead characters.