Steve McQueen’s Essential Small Ax Joins the Criterion Collection | TV/Streaming

“Lovers Rock”

Despite its brief 68-minute runtime, “Lovers Rock” is loaded with tactile, sensuous storytelling. The cinematography by Shabier Kirchner and McQueen’s direction make the well-choreographed dance sequences into amazing mini-movies; you’ll find yourself asking, “Where the hell is the camera?” They are just as adept at conveying the connections made at the party. Though the film doesn’t always focus on them, Franklyn and Martha emerge as the lovers we care about and endorse, and Ward and St. Aubyn do wonders with minimal dialogue. They work so well that when Martha gives Franklyn the number of a phone booth where she can be reached at 5pm after church (a suspicious move even Franklyn worries about), all I could think about was, “Man, I hope he calls and she’s there.” I’ll be thinking about this one for a while.

“Red, White and Blue”

“Big change, it is a slow turning wheel,” Kenneth tells his son in the closing scene before the two toast “to something good.” Technically, this is the last line in “Small Axe,” a choice that I couldn’t stop ruminating on after seeing 60% of the series. I am sure I’ll return to my thoughts after seeing the other two installments. For the characters in “Red, White and Blue,” those words have some hope, as they have no idea that the situations they wanted to impact haven’t really changed much today. The system may be more integrated, but it’s still just as corrupt and destructive as Leroy found it. The wheel of change is slow, but I guess there’s a small comfort in knowing it’s still turning.

“Alex Wheatle”

We never get close enough to Alex Wheatle to feel as if we know him. Despite my mild dissatisfaction, I believe that distancing is on purpose, a part of the film’s design. Even after his big, emotional scene and his decision to start writing about his experiences, our protagonist is still growing, still learning who he is. He’s incomplete as the film ends, and the movie reflects that in its construction and its execution. Cole does a good job playing these intentions, but he’s overshadowed by the more intriguing supporting characters. Still, the questions raised here are interesting ones that we rarely see applied to Black people in movies, which is important. As far as satisfaction goes, however, your mileage may vary.