Kin (2018) Review
A MESSY HODEPODGE OF IDEAS
A famous quote reads “nothing is stronger than a sister’s bond”. While no one can really deny that in intangible feeling, the same can be said (and argued) over the bond between brothers. Yes, a relationship with a sibling a brother (be it fraternal, step brother, or adopted) can be one that produces a lot love-hate (in both playful good times and powerful heartache), but also one that can simply be beneficial to a person; bonding through the years, sharing experiences, and having the special connection with each other through life’s trials and tribulations. Naturally, acting as a catalyst for dramatic storytelling, the relationship ideas of brothers has taken centerstage in several Hollywood movies. This idea of film narrative designs (be it supporting idea or a narrative centerpiece) has been seeing in many movies and from different genres, including Step Brothers (comedy), The Godfather (drama), the MCU Thor movies (fantasy / action), Warrior (drama), Legendary (drama), The Lost Boys (horror), The Outsiders (drama / crime), The Blues Brothers (comedy / crime), Defiance (war / suspense), Foxcatcher (drama), amongst many others. Now, Summit Entertainment (as well as 21 Laps Entertainment and No Trace Camping) and directors Josh and Jonathan Baker presents an interesting take on the brotherly bonding relationship with the movie Kin. Does the feature strike a chord with the sibling relationship drama or is it a cobbled-up iteration of different ideas and of a classic “mistaken identity” motion picture endeavor?
Living in the crumbling city of Detroit, Michigan, Elijah Solinski (Myles Truitt) is struggling with his outbreak behavior in school, recently being suspended for fighting, which upsets his hard-working father, Hal (Dennis Quaid), who’s been having difficulty raising his son after the death of his wife. Walking back into their lives is Jimmy (Jack Reynor), with Hal’s oldest son emerging from an extended prison stint, confronting his father who gave up on him years ago for the crimes he committed. Unfortunately, Jimmy is in deep with local gangster Taylor Balik (James Franco), unable to pay of a very sizeable debt. When a planned robbery of Hal’s construction business gets botched, Jimmy takes off with $60,000, inadvertently pulling Elijah into the sudden escape. Making plans to cross the country and reach Lake Tahoe as their final destination, Jimmy and Elijah bond as brothers, making steps into a proper sibling relationship with each other. However, while Jimmy can’t control his urges and starts making trouble again with his newfound money, Elijah is put on “protection” mode, armed with a mysterious alien rifle he found inside an abandoned factory. Armed with forgiven weapon, Jimmy sees big plans with the Elijah’s weapon. Unbeknownst to the two brothers, Taylor is in close pursuit of them (seeking revenge) as well as the two enigmatic alien soldiers, who have come to Earth to retrieve their lost weapon.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Much like what I said about that quote in my opening paragraph’s first sentence, the bond between sisters is indeed palpable, but the same can be said between brothers. Yes, I’m talking about that old “brotherly love” type thing. Yes, I do have an older brother and yes we have that “brotherly love” with each other. In a nutshell, with both have our difference when we were growing up (both of us being the classic annoying brother to each other from time to time), but as we grew older…we learn to respect one another greatly. To be honest, I could’ve done many things without him (be it emotional support or helping with different things in my life). If your reading this, Justin (who is my brother), just wanted to say…. love ya, bro. Needlessly to say that the stories of brothers have transcended into the cinematic world, with a plethora of films that have touched upon this sibling relationship throughout the years and in different genres. So…. which one is my favorite? Well, it would definitely have to be 2011’s Warrior. The movie was great, the acting was solid (Edgerton and Hardy were excellent in the movie), it was definitely dramatic and intense, and damn…. that ending scene always brings me to tears (it gets me every time).
This brings me back around to talking about the film Kin. To be quite honest, I really didn’t hear much about this movie online. In fact, I didn’t really know anything until the beginning of August when I saw the film’s movie trailer when I went to see The Meg. The trailer for King looked somewhat intriguing, but what got me was the fact of the film’s cast (i.e. Reynor, Franco, and Quaid). The sci-fi aspect looked a bit off-putting, especially given the fact that the movie (shown from what trailer presented) seemed to be more focused on the relationship between the movie’s two protagonist brother characters. Still, I was semi-interested to see this movie and to what it had to offer, so I decided to see it. What did I think of it? Well, it definitely had its moments, but Kin ultimately ends up being an uneven experience and unable to decide what it truly wants to be. It’s not completely unwatchable, but definitely a misfire.
Kin is directed by the Baker brothers (Josh and Jonathan Baker), who make their theatrical feature directorial debut with this movie. From the get-go, Kin is very much like very much like the movie A-X-L, another 2018 film that shares a lot of similarities with in both narrative pieces and in the film’s overall execution. The similarities between A-X-L and Kin go back to their initial roots with both being first presented as short films. Yes, Kin is based on the 2014 short film titled “Bag Man”, a fourteen and half minute short directed by the Baker brothers, which gives a condensed version of Kin’s premise (a small portion of the narrative). So, now the Baker brothers are given the chance to expand upon their 2014 “Bag Man” short with the movie Kin being the necessary cinematic vehicle to do so. In that regard, the Baker brothers do semi-succeed, building up a story around that very same idea; mostly adding more drama around the young boy (Elijah) and the relationship he has with his brother. To be honest, the story of his brother Jimmy could’ve been a whole an entire movie unto itself. Still, at the heart of the movie, is the relationship between two brothers (Elijah and Jimmy) in how their journey (throughout the film) evolves from estrangement to brotherly bonding.
In terms of presentation, Kin is a good feature that utilizes its budget wisely. Of course, the movie doesn’t have the substantial production budget of a standard Hollywood blockbuster, so the film must use what it has in order to properly tell its film. To that effect, the movie succeeds, smartly utilizing the feature’s “low budget” in way that makes Kin feel (cinematically) good, with various location, props, and set-pieces. Even the sci-fi visual effect parts are rendered in a generally favorable way. Yes, it doesn’t have that “visual” flair like from a Star Wars or a Marvel movie, but it works for what Kin needs it to be. Thus, the visual effects team that worked on this project should be (at the very least) applauded from their efforts. Additionally, the works of Mark Day (editing), Ethan Tobman (production designs), and Mary Kirkland (set decoration) do lend their support in making Kin look good on-screen. Lastly, the movie’s score, which was composed by Mogwai (a Scottish post-rock band) gives an okay performance throughout. It’s not really awesome, but neither is it really bad (i.e. ear splitting) …. it’s just somewhere in the middle, with some decent melodies that play in the background from scene to scene.
Unfortunately, Kin isn’t all what it cracks to up to be or even what it wants to potential achieve in telling its cinematic narrative. Perhaps one of the reasons why it struggle is in its storytelling structure and the genre make-up it proceeds to “chameleon-like” changes within its sequential three acts. What do I mean? Well, Kin has three separate ideas that it wants to talk about, with one being a family drama piece (the relationship between Elijah and Jimmy), a second being a crime drama (Jimmy’s dealings and run in with Taylor and his gang), and third a sci-fi tale (Elijah’s finding on the mysterious alien weapon). It’s the classic case of a feature trying to have multiple things (ideas and scenarios ripped from different genres), but it ultimately ends up being a case of “mistaken identity”. There’s some family drama of which the movie starts out, but ultimately takes a backseat for huge chunks of the movie (scattered throughout the feature here and there. The same can be said about the sci-fi elements, which really don’t arrive until the final leg of the movie. So, without that science fiction wonderment and heartfelt drama (be it brotherly love tenderness or crime drama), Kin just feels like a hodgepodge of ideas that aren’t blended correctly and cohesively well.
Who’s to blame? Well, it’s both the Baker brothers (the directorial directions) and in the film’s screenplay, which was penned by Daniel Casey. Why? For starters, the Bakers, who again directed with the original 2014 short film of which Kin is based off of, have a difficult time in executing the whole narrative of the feature. From onset to conclusion, they handle with movie with an ambiguous goal of what it really wants to be. Yes, they do get some sequences right (executed well-enough), but Kin (for almost its entirety) is such a messy endeavor. An example of this is in the film’s second act, which does have a sluggish pacing and feels like it drags on forever. To be honest, Kin, despite having a lot of narrative nuances to exam and explain, feels boring for large portions, with little to no excitement, creating an unevenness throughout and kind overstays its welcome, which strange as the movie only has a runtime of 102 minutes. Perhaps if Baker brothers didn’t direct the movie (being consult advisors on the project), Kin could’ve possible been better, with a director that would’ve been more capable in crafting a motion picture like this. The same can be said about Casey’s screenplay for Kin, which (again) has some lofty ideas for the story to being told, but the script never fully commits in fleshing them out. Thus, the ideas presented in the film aren’t fully developed and are rather thinly skimmed ideas scenarios that play out. It also doesn’t help that Casey’s script is also rather clunky with its dialogue and in the character builds for its various characters (more on that below).
In truth, the whole sci-fi aspect of Kin feels very much shoehorned into the movie. Naturally, it’s a primary piece in the film’s narrative plot progression, but it really feels out of place. To be honest, I think that Kin could’ve been so much better if the sci-fi elements were removed altogether, leaving the story of Elijah and Jimmy (and the whole running and being pursed by Taylor) could’ve been more effective and allowing their characters to grow into a more wholesome feature. However, the most disappointing / negative part of Kin is when the movie reaches its final fifteen-minute stretch of the third act, which is when the final climatic set-piece is brought forward and several conflict issues are brought to ahead. What happens? Well, I won’t spoil it, but it becomes increasingly too sci-fi for the film’s own good and separately tries to be something it supposedly isn’t. As directors, Josh and Jonathan Baker have a hard time in staging a satisfying climax piece for the feature, squandering its potential for a pretty “tame” and very “clunky” showdown that feels lackluster and a bit confusing. Additionally, this is when the movie enters a bizarrely science fiction element that feels totally awkward and out of place. At this point, Casey’s script tries to lay the ground work for a new narrative to be added as if there is a larger (and more important) story to be told than what transpired throughout Kin; setting up a potential quasi-sequel / spinoff feature at some point in the future. Unfortunately, the payoff for this particular twist comes a bit “too little, too late” and ends up being leaving the film with more unanswered questions than resolving the conflict that Kin primarily tells. Thus, my frustration (as I feel many out there will feel) comes when the credits begin to roll as I (personally) felt cheated that neither the Bakers nor Casey’s script respectfully resolves the film’s narrative properly.
The cast in Kin was one of the reasons why I was initially curious to see this movie and (for the most part) they deliver. Sure, most of the performances by the actors / actresses in the movie are exactly their “best performance” to date (respectfully, of course), but it works within the context of what Kin needs, which is kind of a good thing. Needless to say, that there acting abilities are not in question in Kin, but their characters (and how they are written) are mediocrely displayed and therefore lackluster in most cases. Perhaps the one actor who shines the best and the brightest (of the entire cast) is actor Jack Reynor, who plays the character of Jimmy Solinski. Reynor, known for his roles in Glassland, Detroit, and Transformers: Age of Extinction, does an excellent job as Jimmy. In fact, he actually takes center stage for majority of Kin’s runtime, providing enough on-screen presence and character development whenever called upon. Plus, it actually helps that Reynor’s acting talents are pretty good and do help sell his persona of Jimmy. Thus, Reynor’s performance is definitely one that’s quite memorable in Kin.
Alongside Reynor’s Jimmy is the character of his younger brother Elijah Solinski, who is played young actor Myles Truitt. Known for his roles in Queen Sugar, Black Lightning, and The New Edition Story, Truitt is okay in the role of Elijah. His acting is fine in the movie, but Kin never really allows him to truly “shine”, with most of his scenes just reacting to certain events throughout and not much in the way of acting to build his character. Speaking of character build, there’s hefty setup for his character (a trouble / wayward youth, secondary son to a hard-working father, a troublesome older brother, etc.), but the movie never fully explores all those ideas, making Elijah a pretty flat character, despite him being one of the protagonist ones. To be truthful, Truitt’s performance (and characters) pretty much get outshined by Reynor’s performance for majority of the feature….and (in truth) …Elijah is supposed to be the “main character” of the two. That being said, both Truitt and Reynor have great on-screen chemistry with each other, which does sell the tentative brotherly relationship between Elijah and Jimmy.
In more supporting roles, actor James Franco (The Disaster Artist and 127 Hours) gets the most spotlight / screen-time as the villainous local thug gangster Taylor Balik. While Franco’s talents are known (and he is a good actor) he’s almost pantomiming the character of powerful street gangster from Detroit. Personally, he was just okay in the movie as I believe he was mostly a “miscast” in the role…. I just couldn’t see him as sinister bad guy (more a bit “over the top” and goofy to be more precise). The same can be partly said with actress Zoe Kravitz (Divergent and Mad Max: Fury Road), who plays the character of Milly, a stripper who befriends Jimmy and Elijah. Kravitz’s acting talents are good, but the character is pretty “blah” (i.e. more of a small plot device than an actual character) and really doesn’t amount to much, beyond a few pieces. In short, she’s pretty forgetful in the movie. Of three, only seasoned actor Dennis Quaid (I Can Only Imagine and Frequency) nails his role in Kin as Jimmy and Elijah’s hard-working / stern father Hal Solinski. The only problem is that he’s not much in the movie, which is disappointing as Quaid is the real veteran anchor of the movie. Still, for the amount of screen-time he gets, Quaid’s Hal is a solid supporting character. There really isn’t much of a minor supporting cast in the movie, with the exception actress Carrie Coon (Avengers: Infinity War and Gone Girl) as FBI agent Morgan Hunter and a surprise cameo-like appearance by an actor (one of the two mysterious alien soldiers looking for alien rifle). The rest of the side character serve little to no importance on other than filling out background in some scenes as small stock-like characters (i.e. most part of Taylor’s gang).
Elijah and Jimmy Solinski hit the road, escaping their past, bonding as brothers, and face new challenges in the movie Kin. Directors by the Josh and Jonathan Baker (who make their directorial debut) bring to life their 2014 short film to the silver screen, fully realizing their project concept into a theatrical feature film. Unfortunately, while the film does have its moments (sprinkled throughout), a solid opening first act setup, and a strong performance from Reynor, the movie just can’t rise to occasion, being tonally mismanaged in its unevenness, a sluggish second act pacing, a weak / shoehorned sci-fi aspect, a lackluster (and frustration) third act, and some mediocre performance from majority of the cast. To me, this movie was disappointing. It sounds interesting (on paper and in its premise), but the final result (and a clunky one at that) leaves much to be desired. I think it was a little bit better than A-X-L, but at least that movie knew what it was (no more, no less), which kind of sort of drags my liking of Kin down even further. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is a definite “skip it”, with many finding little reason to see this movie. Many movies out there have a clear and precise presentation mindset to know how they want to be perceived by their viewers. Kin, however, just simply doesn’t know what it wants to be (a family story of brothers, a crime drama, a sci-fi tale, etc.) ….and that’s the true problem with the film….in its entirety.
2.4 Out of 5 (Skip It)
Released On: August 31st, 2018
Reviewed On: September 6th, 2018
Kin is 102 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for gun violence and intense action, suggestive material, language, thematic elements, and drinking