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A Thousand and One

A Thousand and One
Precious meets Moonlight in 2023's A Thousand and One, an allegedly gritty urban drama that, despite solid performances, suffers due to a cliche-ridden screenplay and an eventual descent into melodrama that makes the movie seem a lot longer than it is.

The setting is New York City, circa 1994, where we meet Inez, a streetwise single mom, fresh out of Rikers, who literally kidnaps her son, Terry, out of a foster care facility and is determined to start her life with her son all over again, but as Terry grows up and real life begins to interfere, including the return of a former boyfriend of Inez, things begin to methodically fall apart for this mother and son.

Director and screenwriter A V Rockwell really deserves an "A" for effort here, as the story presented starts off quite promisingly as we watch this woman willing to do just about anything to make a new life for her son and the first third of the film focusing on Inez and her little boy was completely riveting and could have made a great movie all by itself. Sadly, we are disappointed as Inez' ex enters the picture and seems to still love her but has no interest in being a stepfather, even though this is what Terry needs more than anything as he enters his teens. The story also reveals young Terry to be a really smart kid who is given the chance to attend an advanced high school and fights the opportunity with every fiber of his being. It seems like the older the character gets, the dumber he gets. And just when we think we've had it with this, an 11th hour reveal about Inez rears its ugly head, but the sympathy boat for both characters has sailed by then.

I do like the fact that Rockwell chose to have three different actors play Terry, the same way Barry Jenkins used three different actors to play Little in Moonlight, but it didn't make sense that as the character got older, he got dumber and lazier and completely unmotivated to do anything with his life, despite all the sacrifices we see Inez make at the beginning of the film. As ridiculous as certain elements of this story became, the film never becomes completely unrealistic. There are things that happen to Inez and Terry during the course of the story that will have relatability to some viewers, but it moves at a snail's pace and during the final act, when the story begins crapping all over Inez and Terry, we are very tempted to check out before the credits roll.

If Rockwell had economized her screenplay and given her direction more pacing, this film didn't have to be almost two hours long and seem like four. There are some terrific performances though, especially Teyona Taylor as Inez, Josiah Cross as 17 year old Terry, and William Catlett as Inez' man, Lucky, but the film just takes too long to get where it goes. And a gold star to anyone who can explain the title.