The 400-Word Review: All Day and a Night
By Sean Colleir
May 4, 2020
This is a movie about anger.
Jah (Ashton Sanders), the protagonist of “All Day and a Night,” has a lot of anger. Some of it is motivated — by the bad hand a relative was dealt during military service, by the racist comments he overhears at work, by the simmering gang war in which he must pick a side. To a certain degree, however, his anger is just a fact of his own mental health; some of us struggle with rage, and Jah is one of those people.
His father, J.D. (Jeffrey Wright), also has a lot of anger. His combined with addiction struggles and led to an outburst of violence, witnessed by a young Jah. That led to a life sentence for JD; now, following a shocking double murder, Jah is joining his estranged father in prison.
That is at once the inciting incident and climax of “All Day and a Night.” In writer/director Joe Robert Cole’s excellent Netflix drama, Jah’s crime is the first thing we see; the journey is not to the story’s conclusion, but rather to Jah’s personal understanding of how and why it happened. The path of this movie is internal, yet it is full of drama and action. It takes a structure that can be a flaw (beginning at the end) and turns it into an asset, recontextualizing a common cinema trope as something novel.
This is experience Cole brings to “All Day and a Night” from his most prominent work. As the co-writer of “Black Panther” (with Ryan Coogler), he had to turn Marvel’s tried-and-true superhero formula into a story both epic and intimate. “Black Panther” imbued superheroes with real-world context, history and pain — and, as a pretty direct result, it’s the best movie in the sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The ruthless, modern setting of “All Day and a Night” is far removed from Wakanda in practical terms. But both films share thematic concerns — what is earned, what is owed and what terrible choices are made necessary in desperate circumstances.
Both films are also about fathers and sons. “All Day and a Night” could hardly have found a better duo than Sanders — whose unforgettable work in “Moonlight” announced his presence as a forceful actor — and Wright, a perennially underrated performer. This is a strong story from a skilled filmmaker; with these actors telling it, it’s almost essential.
My Rating: 9/10
“All Day and a Night” is now streaming on Netflix.