Vague Visages’ Mickey Hardaway review contains minor spoilers. Marcellus Cox’s 2023 movie features Rashad Hunter, Stephen Cofield Jr. and Ashley Parchment. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.
Mickey Hardaway, a hard-hitting feature debut about generational cycles of abuse, is a cinematic descendant of American History X (1998). Much like Tony Kaye’s film, writer-director Marcellus Cox examines familial dynamics in Los Angeles, but from the perspective of a Black artist. “I don’t know how to love,” the titular character (portrayed by Rashad Hunter) says approximately midway through the 106-minute drama; a devastating moment that links to the loaded opening sequence, in which the protagonist cryptically stares at three profile sketches, a gun barely visible on his desk. Mickey, struggling with addiction and abandonment issues, feels overwhelmed by the world but pushes forward anyway by seeking help while developing a romantic relationship with a fellow artist, Grace Livingston (Ashley Parchment). Mickey Hardaway has some obvious flaws, but therein lies the charm of Cox’s intellectually stimulating debut.
Cox’s artistry quickly stands out in Mickey Hardaway’s opening act through several foreground/background contrasts. The writer-director, in collaboration with cinematographer Jamil Gooding, accentuates Mickey’s isolation and then positions him next to a towering therapist named Dr. Cameron Harden (Stephen Cofield Jr.). As the narrative jumps back and forth in time, Mickey tries to process the consequences of his father’s physical and verbal abuse through a fatalist frame of mind.
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Mickey Hardaway’s therapist sequences allow the audience to fully understand the protagonist’s background and motivations. The black-and-white cinematography infuses this particular L.A. story with grit and realism, but Cox’s dialogue comes across as a bit explanatory at times, in terms of the overall messaging about generational trauma. Meaning, the filmmaker’s writing voice drowns out what should be natural-sounding conversations. The overall exchanges and opposing perspectives, however, uplift Mickey Hardaway. For every on-the-nose statement about trauma and grief, there’s a contrasting character viewpoint. Incidentally, Cox creates a conversation with the audience, rather than simply offering one-sided commentaries about father figures and then walking away.
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Mickey Hardaway’s extended character exchanges benefit the main cast. The film’s most valuable performer is clearly Hunter, a gifted actor who operates like a young Chadwick Boseman or John Boyega, and with the experience of having already starred in Cox’s 2020 short film of the same name. Despite some didactic script moments, the writer-director always gives his performers a little more to chew on, which returns Mickey Hardaway to its gritty realism. And when the title character experiences a romantic epiphany, Cox makes a brilliant filmmaking move by communicating Mickey’s new emotional reality via color. It’s also worth noting that David Chattam delivers an absolutely jaw-dropping performance as the title character’s abusive father, Randall. Similarly, Ashley Parchment makes the most of her screen time as Grace, often framed beautifully by Cox and Gooding, with the latter crew member working as both the cinematographer and editor.
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Currently streaming on Tubi, Mickey Hardaway is the real deal. Cox stumbles in the film’s second half, structurally and tonally, but redeems himself with balanced character dialogue, specifically during the therapist sequences. Mickey simply wants to “blossom and live” yet can’t quite create anything without thinking about alcohol and violent imagery. And so Chekhov’s Gun, which first appears in the opening sequence, is bound to go off. But in what manner? Cox, with his careful direction and thoughtful dialogue, seamlessly transitions from a traditional trauma-drama into true thriller territory. No risk, no gain.
Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor.
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