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Paramount Studios presents
Our America (2002)

Lloyd: People all over pointed to Eric's death as a symbol of everything that went wrong with a neighborhood like ours.
LeAlan: For kids growing up in this neighborhood, it was nothing new.

- Lloyd (Brandon Hammond), LeAlan (Roderick Pannell)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: October 07, 2004

Stars: Brandon Hammond, Roderick Pannell
Other Stars: Josh Charles, Mykelti Williamson, Vanessa Williams
Director: Ernest Dickerson

MPAA Rating: R for language and some violent content
Run Time: 01h:35m:21s
Release Date: April 13, 2004
UPC: 097368038448
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

A five-year-old boy who was dropped to his death from the window of Chicago's Ida B. Wells housing project building by a pair of ten-year-olds serves as the emotional catalyst for this Ernest Dickerson (Bones, Demon Knight) film. What makes it even more heartbreaking is that it is based on a true story, one that was unfortunately very prominent in Chicago headlines when it occurred in the early 1990s. But as a second layer to Dickerson's project, he focuses on yet another true story that became indirectly intertwined with the death of the young boy, this one noticeably more uplifting, and yet nearly as heartbreaking at times.

A pair of black teenage boys—one of whom lives in the Ida B. Wells projects and the other in its shadows—enter themselves in a National Public Radio audition for a special project, and young producer David Isay (Josh Charles), who is white, decides that their nonstop street chatter is perfect for his upcoming NPR documentary. The boys—Lloyd (Brandon Hammond) LeAlan (Roderick Pannell)—are best friends, and their mission is to lug tape recorders around for a few weeks, recording their day-to-day life in the projects, capturing what Isay refers to as Ghetto Life 101. But the boys end up with more than they bargained on many fronts when their real life radio reports become hugely popular, and the two are accused of being pawns in a white-controlled media experiment that some opponents referred to as being nothing more than "tourist in the ghetto" reporting.

This was originally crafted as a film for Showtime, and the leeway with regard to language has allowed Dickerson to accent Our America with plenty of profanities that lend an air of streetwise authenticity to everything, even if the rough words are coming out of the mouth of a twelve-year-old. But the thing that really makes this whole thing come together are the natural performances from Hammond and Parnell, who never once seem like they are acting, and move with a sort of numb indifference to their depressing daily surroundings. Their work here is especially noteworthy—they both give Dickerson's film a real grounded shot-in-the-arm.

The narrative is not without its minor flaws, primarily the frequent interview segments where Lloyd and LeAlan gather background about life in the projects—even when characters are roaring drunks and/or addicts, they are still able to deliver moving soliloquies about life's hardships. There were times when some of these monologue scenes sounded more forced than others—maybe a fault of the actors, maybe the writing—and some of the film's heavys, such as a hard-nosed school principal, appear to be very thinly drawn. These moments are obviously designed to establish how painfully rough the lives of these characters are, but Dickerson actually does best during one single scene where Isay stops by Lloyd's apartment one morning and witnesses armies of cockroaches and dirty, deplorable surroundings that are just part of everyday life for the boys. A scene like that speaks louder than any of the interview pieces ever could.

The overall story, however, is an interesting and ultimately positive one, made all the more hopeful because it very closely parallels a true story.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Our America is presented in a fine, if exceedingly plain, full frame transfer. Colors are bright without being explosive, and the image detail remains sharp throughout, even during the scenes where Dickerson employs stylish visuals. I noticed some shimmer during a handful of sequences, but in general the print appeared to be devoid of any major issues.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: No muss, no fuss with the 2.0 stereo mix, which does its job by presenting clean, discernible dialogue without really anything in the way of aural theatrics or dramatics.

Simple and presentable.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The cupboard is bare in the extras department, though the disc is cut into 16 chapters.

Extras Grade: F


Final Comments

A little less in-your-face messaging might have tempered some of the often too eloquent monologues, but what Ernest Dickerson has really done is capture a couple of wonderful performances from a pair of young actors: Roderick Parnell and Brandon Hammond.

If I was Dickerson I would be furious that Parnell is mentioned nowhere on the DVD artwork—front or back. That is just wrong, and completely inexcusable.


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