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FilmSoc Reviews: Two Distant Strangers

Posted by FilmSoc on Thu, 15-04-2021

by Eóin McCambridge

Two Distant Strangers is a new short film from Netflix and is directed by Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe. Currently one of the nominees for best short at this years Oscars, it stars rapper Joey Bada$$ as Carter James.

Carter is a graphic designer in his late 20s. He also happens to be African American. He’s just after spending the night for the first time with a girl he likes, Perri (Zaria Simone), but rather then spend the rest of the day with her he insists he has to get home to his beloved dog Jeter. After stepping out of her apartment building he encounters white police officer Merk. After some aggressive questioning and an attempt at an illegal search, Merk violently drags Carter to the ground in a choke hold, all while Carter cries out, loses consciousness and then dies. This might seem like the end of a film. In Two Distant Strangers its only the beginning, as Carter wakes up again in Perri’s bed as though nothing happened and still intent on getting home to his pitbull. What plays out for the next half an hour is Carter repeatedly getting unlawfully killed by officer Merk and repeatedly waking up beside Perri, always trying new ways to avoid being killed and get home.  Think Groundhog Day (or Edge of Tomorrow/Happy Death Day etc.) with a socially conscious twist. Technically I think this makes Two Distant Strangers a science fiction film, but between its main hook of ‘black man murdered by police’ being lifted straight from news headlines and its contemporary New York setting it couldn’t feel more current and true to life. This isn’t by accident either. Between Carter's death cry of ‘I cant breathe’ and the film invoking the names of people such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor the filmmakers very much want you to draw a connection between the fictitious events of the film and the real life stories consuming the media.

This might be a turn off for some audiences, not everyone wants to be reminded of current political and humanitarian matters when they stick on a movie (and to those people Id probably advise not to see this one) but at the same time those looking for a deep deconstruction of race relations in America will probably also come away from Two Distant Strangers disappointed. Officer Merk's motivations for mistreating and killing Carter are never really established beyond ‘because Carter's black’ and the short nature of the film, coupled with the repetition of the one major set piece, prevents the film from exploring its themes of racism in a hugely deep way. All that being said, Two Distant Strangers works very well at what it does do, and that’s being a cinematic showcase of repeated, brutal and unwarranted police violence. Actor Andrew Howard delivers Merk's lines in a way that one could believe a hateful and belligerent cop says them, and each scene of confrontation between him and Chase is quite anxiety inducing. Joey Bada$$’ laid back demeanor as Chase further adds to the tragedy of the film and the repeated lingering of the camera on his bloodied body is undeniably powerful. 

Although not necessarily a piece of African American social commentary to rival Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, Two Distant Strangers is a brutal and powerful short film based around a unique concept that’s absolutely worth seeing, especially when you factor in that it only runs for 32 minutes and is accessible through Netflix. 

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