Film Review: Destined

Tracking one life, on two possible paths, the gloomy drama 'Destined' derails into a rut of self-seriousness.
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A life of crime must be hard, sometimes unbearably stressful. Perhaps the near-constant need to stay alert, on-guard and impregnable can grip a person’s psyche and never let go. That appears to be the case for Sheed, the street-level crime boss portrayed with glowering intensity by Cory Hardrict in writer-director Qasim Basir’s dual-track drama Destined.

Introducing Sheed as a boy in Detroit’s Brewster public-housing projects, the film opens as he’s cruelly initiated into a life of slinging drugs on the streets of his blighted neighborhood. Soon, Sheed finds himself being chased down by the cops, a pivotal juncture in his life that the filmmaker uses deftly to launch the film’s two timelines. In one, Sheed rises from street-corner pusher to the dealer in charge, served by a gun-toting crew and a hotheaded lieutenant, Cal (Robert Christopher Riley). In another life, the kid grows up to be Rasheed, who gets out of the game and follows his passion for art into pursuing success as an architect, cheered on by his friend, Calvin (also Riley).

The separate storylines, marked visually by their respective warm- and cool-filtered hues, seethe with quiet intensity strewn with loud bursts of tightly shot action and gun violence. On either side of the Sheed/Rasheed divide, the stories are heavily plotted, and populated by opposing, or complementary, versions of characters who exist in the opposite timeline.

So, Sheed’s plot features Jesse Metcalfe in a solid performance as righteous detective Officer Holder, while in Rasheed’s universe Metcalfe is the savvy developer Dylan Holder, who’s planning to build luxury condos out of the hollowed-out remains of Rasheed’s childhood neighborhood. Sheed’s mother, April (Paula Devicq), is a struggling addict who reaps the proceeds of her drug-dealing son’s illegal lifestyle, while Rasheed’s mom lives modestly, but fully supports her son’s well-being.

The pat contrasts and the bouncing back and forth between both streams do more to deplete the film’s momentum than to build suspense or narrative drive. And the relentlessly downbeat mood doesn’t help propel the two storylines, both destined to end in gunfire. Whether depicting Sheed’s criminal element, or Rasheed’s white-collar conflict, the film adheres to a bent of stone-cold seriousness. The tense mood pervades every scene and interaction, without the relief of humor, or the texture of romance, despite Sheed’s half-hearted interest in Maya (Margot Bingham), a girl from his past. It all becomes a tad exhausting.

Hardrict ably holds the center of the dueling storylines, but he’s allowed little range or dimension in a one-note drama that views even Sheed/Rasheed’s positive emotions—like his love for his mom, or loyalty to his friends—through a lens of pain anddiscord.None of these characters is having any fun, not at home, not at work, not at the nightclub Sheed and Cal frequent, where seemingly drug lords go just to glare at the competition, cultivate gang wars and argue with their girlfriends.

Huddled again and again in a dark corner of the club with Sheed and his cronies, one might long for a moment to whoop it up with the carefree souls on the dance floor who get to laugh, dance and go off to stories where someone cracks a smile every now and then. Even The Godfather’s Corleones put down their pistols and partied once in a while—except, perhaps, Al Pacino’s Michael, the heavy head burdened to wear the family crown. Imagine, then, a film that’s just Michael, running a racket and hating every second of it. Destined is a well-intentioned examination of fate and a disadvantaged young man’s moral choices, but the film’s message gets overwhelmed by its single-mindedly serious approach.

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