'Five Star' compelling and well worth the price of the ticket

4/18/2014, 7:26 p.m.
NEW YORK – “Five Star,” the World Narrative Competition entry, had its World Premiere at the 13th Tribeca Film Festival. ...

NEW YORK – “Five Star,” the World Narrative Competition entry, had its World Premiere at the 13th Tribeca Film Festival. It is a compelling film by second-time features director Keith Miller (Welcome to Pine Hill-2012 Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner).

A member of the Brooklyn Film Collective, Miller, with his cinematographers Ed Davis, Alexander Mallis and Eric Phillips-Horst, captures the raw, Bosnia- drab world of Brooklyn’s Walt Whitman housing projects and frames it in a modernistic urban fable that blurs the line between documentary and fiction.

This is not the street gang world that you see glorified in the rap videos. There are no pimped out “rides”or make-it-rain visits to strip clubs. The gang bangers in this film don’t wear any bling or drive fancy cars. They simply hang out on street corners or in dingy apartments, protecting their turf, and using young kids as ‘mules’ to transport their ‘packages,’ a euphemism for drugs, from point A, to point B.’ That’s precisely the point where we meet the protagonists Primo and John in the film "Five Star."

The film revolves around the actions of the notorious Bloods in their home turf in the Brooklyn projects during one sweltering hot summer. Their leader, “Primo,” is the Five Star General of the Bloods who rules by abject fear, although he calls it “respect.”(The term “Five Star” is an obvious play on the like term for military leaders).

At the outset of the film, we meet James “Primo” Grant, a real-life Blood enforcer, speaking on camera to an unseen passenger riding in his car, about the day his young son, Sincere, was born. Sincere, we later learn, is autistic. Sincere is at the center of Primo’s being and he expresses his feeling that the birth of Sincere was the seminal event of his life. “But do you know where I was,” he declares ruefully. “F---in’ locked up!”

The film quickly moves forward, with Primo taking young John under his wing (played with disarming charm, authenticity and a sense of youthful innocence by budding actor and East Side New York resident John Diaz). John’s father was mysteriously murdered and Primo has offered to mentor him, showing him the ropes and all the ins and outs of gang life and the streets. John’s an eager wannabe and Primo offers him the protection and guidance he craves, particularly in light of the absence of his father, who was revered by everyone in this tightly wound world of ruthless demigods and their minions.

Primo promises that he will mentor John, but what transpires is anything but. The next thing we see, is John as mule, transporting a “package” to one of Primo’s street lieutenants. When Primo hears that John didn’t make the drop as ordered, he’s ready to snuff him. So much for Ward Cleaver!

The film deftly sets up Primo’s character, showing him first as the coldly calculating ruler (“It’s just business!”he declares as he beats a young recruit to

the floor for failing to come up with the money that is owed on a drug deal, then cooly walks out of the room as his followers finish the job). Flash forward to him lovingly preparing a tasty meal for his doting girlfriend and commercial- pretty young children in the sanctity of their peacefully, albeit threadbare, home in the projects. The contrast between his ruthlessness in the streets and the loving interactions with his girlfriend and their three young children, could not be more pronounced.