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Aleks in Chains: A Tale of Redemption and Choice

Redemption has long been a theme in film. It is at the heart of many morality tales, and the best story arcs contain characters that often undergo a positive change. In Chained, the new film from writer-director Titus Heckel, morality and redemption take centre stage.

The cat-and-mouse chess match stars Marlon Kazadi as Taylor, a bullied 13 year old with an emotionally tough father and a passion for gardening. Adrian Holmes co-stars as the teen’s cop dad Pete and Vancouver legend Aleks Paunovic is his typical self as a complicated brute criminal. On the run from school bullies, Taylor stumbles into an abandoned warehouse, where he comes across Paunovic’s Jim, a man in shackles who may or may not have a killed a man in a case that is connected to Taylor’s dad.

Although is hard to like any of the three lead characters – their actions don’t necessarily bemoan sympathy – the actors themselves turn in great performances. Kazadi is great as the angry teenager; his role and style reminiscent of Jahi Di’allo Winston, the young star of the great but gone-to-soon Netflix Show Everything Sucks. Kazadi has many scenes with Paunovic and holds his own emotionally, finding just the right balance of subtlety, anger and manipulation. Paunovic – a master of brute force – shows his softer side during some tender moments between criminal and kid, with the two creating a highly dysfunctional relationship and Paunovic’s Jim even engaging in a game of battleship and giving the young horticulturaist advice on kissing his crush Nora.

Speaking of Nora, the actress who plays the role of the girlfriend, Leia Madu, might just lowkey be the best performance of the movie. She is certainly the most likeable character in the movie and takes great effort not to be merely a sidepiece, as characters have been in the past. Her emotional arc is realistic, she doesn’t try and do too much; she just wants to be a normal teenager – Nora and Taylor are only 13 after all. She is not simply the confused girlfriend, but causes significant decisions and actions to be taken by the characters.

Although, there are some problems with the script – namely that it never really answers “why”, as well as some questionable tonal shifts and music choices, overall Heckel was able to create a thought-provking experiment on the power of choice and what happens when the drive to succeed combined with toxic masculinity is taken to harrowing extremes. That and Aleks Paunovic still kicks ass.

Chained recently premiered at the Vancouver International Film Festival

  • Dan McPeake
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