Movie review: Project Power

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

Humanity may not be awash in actual mutants or those with special powers – well, not yet anyway; who knows which way the evolutionary cookie may crumble – but the movies we watch certainly are.

You can’t enter a cinema (figuratively anyway; literally, it’s a literal trickier in COVID-rampant 2020) or dive into the overwhelming depths of a streaming platform without coming across films aplenty where people, by fair means or foul (usually the latter, naturally) have acquired abilities well beyond the abilities of your average Homo Sapiens.

The latest to join this enhanced and very crowded genre is Project Power, directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman to a screenplay by Mattson Tomlin, which on paper seems like just another thriller/superhero/crime mash-up until it really gets going when it turns, much like those who take the drug at its centre, into something altogether extraordinary.

Much of its, ahem, narrative power comes from the simple fact that it takes its time introducing us to the characters at the heart of its story.

What makes this an impressive feat is that it does so while propelling the storyline onward, ever onward, a delicate balancing act of narrative momentum and careful character building that pays real dividends later on.

Most of us know (Michael Bay aside, of course) that a good action film needs some sort of emotional heart to really make an impact.

Explosions end, intensely-choreographed fights run their course and confrontations between good and evil eventually find some kind of resolution, but they all mean very little once the dust settles if we don’t give a damn about the people caught up in it all.

(image courtesy New on Netflix)

Thanks to some deft writing and some well-judged casting which results in exemplary performances that bring the heart out of this engaging story, Project Power serves up characters you care about and intensely so.

We get to see the three main characters – New Orleans cop Frank Shaver (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), aspiring rap artist and dealer of the drug Power Robin (Dominique Fishback) and Art Reilly/The Major, a former test subject for the drug which gives many people superhuman abilities for five precious minutes – in their own spheres and then intersecting with each other in ways that are briefly but fulsomely done.

Take the scene in which we are introduced to the strong friendship that exists between Robin and Frank.

She has been his dealer for six months or so, with Frank determined to level the playing field between users, dealers and the police by taking the drug himself, and in that time, because Frank is a decent guy and highschooler Robin is only dealing to get her mother much-needed and beyond their normal reach medical care for her diabetes, they have become friends.

Such is the writing and chemistry that there is a real and immediate and noticeable bond between the two which springs instantly to life and makes what comes later feel real and possible, even if it is, like many action films, a series of suspension of belief moments, and then some.

You warm to the two characters straight away, and while any sense of investment in The Major takes a little longer by nature of the way he meets Robin and Frank, he soon matters greatly to you too.

It’s this care taken with character set-up and execution that enriches Project Power which is, in many ways, just another take on the world-is-dark-and-people-want-to-take-more-than-their-slice-of-the-pie-by-nefarious-means film.

That’s not a criticism by the way; simply a statement of fact with the fact infused with many of the elements that populate the many films in the genre.

You have the good cop, the heart of gold teenager forced to do things because of impossible circumstance and the father desperate to find his lost daughter – quite why Frank wants to find Tracy (Kyanna Simone Simpson) is best and most rewardingly left to the watching of the film – and the evil cartel determined to change the world, and enrich themselves while they’re at it, standing against them.

(image courtesy New on Netflix)

So much the same as lots of film you have watched before.

But Project Power ups the game, and makes itself into a much more compelling film in the process, by making the characters the main part of the film with the been-there-done-that plot points, which are used quite cleverly it must be said and to highly-engaging effect, serving them and not the other way around.

It may seem like an elemental strategy but it’s one that many modern blockbuster-y films lack, meaning they look amazing and dazzling in the short term but ultimately leaving you wishing there was a more palpable emotional hat upon which to place your post-viewing affections.

Or lack thereof; the thing is while explosions dazzle and fights involve, without real people to populate them, you end up feeling like you have no real emotional investment in the film and consequently there’s very little of any affection for the bang-boom movie once the good guys have won and the bad guys have been shown the door.

Project Power is set apart because while it follows a fairly conventional route, it does so with characters who matter, whose motivations are nuanced and important and whose commitment to the task at hand goes far beyond mere narrative fodder.

Helping matters too is some atmospheric cinematography, courtesy of Michael Simmonds and music that marches perfectly and affectingly in time with either the action or some intense moments of tension and reckoning for the character.

Music should always highlight or amplify some aspect of the film you are watching but the score and song selection by Joseph Trapanese takes things further, creating its own mood-changing, story-enhancing sense of pronounced emotion, time and place.

Project Power is a very clever and engrossing piece of filmmaking that takes some fairly routine, if brilliantly used, off-the-shelf parts and using great characters, well-delivered performances, worldbuilding (thanks to music and visuals that excel), serves up something many of us thought we might never see – a wholly new and interesting entry in a genre so crowded you need a special Power to get yourself noticed.

(image courtesy New on Netflix)

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One thought on “Movie review: Project Power

  1. I really enjoyed Project Power and I went into it without knowing very much, except for the clip of Robin rapping that went through twitter like wildfire. That clip was enough to draw me in. It was entertaining, engrossing and it had lots of heart. I’m eagerly awaiting a sequel! Your take on this movie is spot on! 🙂

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