Films like Jacob’s Ladder are rare; few movies released in the last twenty years come close to matching its haunting portrayal of post-traumatic stress disorder, and all fail in living up to the self-hell after-life it weaves. Thomas Ikimi’s Legacy is one of these few—follows the tale of special ops soldier Malcolm Grey (Idris Elba) after his return from a mission to destroy biological weapons abroad. Malcolm’s initial depression and occasional odd behavior are explained easily enough—while on mission, the man was captured and tortured beyond recognition; returned home with a face and back full of lash-scars. Yet as the film progresses, and Malcolm’s agenda against his senator brother, Darnell Grey Jr, becomes more apparent, his motivation comes into question. Malcolm believes his brother sold him to torturers—effectively traded his life for the silence of a terrorist group. As the narrative becomes increasingly complex, its protagonist becomes increasingly psychotic, experiencing severe hallucinations, fits of rage, and self-inflicted wounds. Ikimi’s film never fully sorts itself out—twists and turns into one hell of a Gordian knot, leaving it to viewers to untangle. It’s a thrilling, fun ride that presumes an intelligence and investment rarely attributed to modern audiences.
Though Legacy’s later reliance on psychological tension feels immensely compelling, its first half drags a little—is constructed almost entirely from political thriller tropes. There’s the sour reunion with Malcolm’s former unit members, his undercover meeting with a journalist to divulge confidential government secrets, and, of course, poorly-lit flashbacks to torture. We’ve seen these everywhere, from The Bourne trilogy to James Bond; though their generic nature “clicks” when the story takes on its psychological slant, they still lend the movie’s first half an uneven, stagnated air. Once it becomes apparent that Malcolm is not only fighting his brother, but also himself (a struggle which actually takes physical form), it spurs forward at a nonstop clip of action and intrigue—it’s just a bumpy road getting there, filled with the occassional moment of post-traumatic stress disorder cheese.
The single setting of a cramped Brooklyn apartment lends the film a claustrophobic air, while its dim lighting and barren décor inspire a sense of dread. Legacy’s use minimalism hearkens back to the Twelve Angry Men style of filmmaking—relies as much on Malcolm’s ever-shrinking living space to increase discomfort and raise concern. It’s a poorly lit film that even David Fincher would be proud of; the character’s mentality is reflected as much in the lighting as in the events which comprise the narrative. The problem arises in the more smothering aspect of using a tiny, dark apartment as your singular setting; though Thomas’s story is ever-intriguing, its dramatic arc is occassionally maligned by the simple hope that he’ll leave the apartment and bring the audience a single ray of sunshine. Presumably this was done for effect, but overall, it leaves audiences drained and brooding over the film’s need to “push” Malcol’s depression on its viewers. Legacy has only been finished for 8 weeks, and though I’m unsure of release details, I hope studio execs leave it as I’ve seen it. Ikimi has poured a lot of work into his movie, as witnessed through tiny details like an anagram subtly buried in its later scenes, and it would be a shame to see it chopped up by the huge Hollywood machine. Though tweaking would work wonders, Thomas Ikimi’s directorial debut is a spectactular hallucinatory spectacle which will leave audiences reflecting over its events, poised to discuss the ambiguity of its narrative. It’s an intelligent thriller that presumes an intelligence from its audience, and for that alone it should be viewed; luckily, it’s also a whole lot of fun. Check it out.