By Vanessa Martinez | Shadow and Act March 11, 2012 at 1:07PM
Matthew Cherry’s directorial debut effort The Last Fall is one that we have followed from its inception on this site via our S&A Filmmaker’s Diary. It’s almost surreal that almost a year later the film is screening at SXSW Film Festival!
Kyle Bishop, played by Lance Gross, is forced into early retirement from football. Kyle faces the realization of starting a new life aside from all he has known, loved and worked diligently for. The statistics are real. Kyle’s predicament is very relevant for many professional football players and to aspiring ones, many of them African American.
The game of football, however, is not the focus of The Last Fall; it’s easy to have that impression from what wee see in the trailer and some of the film’s advertising efforts. The Last Fall is a family and romance drama that deals with the relationships affected by Kyle’s chase of an elusive, fleeting and/or fickle football career.
Kyle comes back home to stay with his mother and sister, played by Vanessa Bell Calloway and Yaani King, respectively. He also has to face his estranged father (Keith David), who is suffering at the hospital from a heart condition.
We understand Kyle losing motivation to pursue his career, his passion for football lost upon his circumstances. There is tension among family members; his mother urges Kyle to see his ailing father. Kyle feels helpless regarding his father’s situation and has refused to visit or keep in contact with him. However, I couldn’t help but wonder if there were other conflicts behind his reluctance to keep in touch with him. Kyle’s mother is also the cause of much chagrin to Kyle’s sister. There are references to this conflict, but there’s simply not enough time to reconcile all these different relationship dynamics.
This can ultimately leave the impression of the film being unfocused. To writer/director Cherry’s credit, it’s difficult to juggle the different subplots, which include rekindling a romance with his high school sweetheart, what is left of his football career and his goals in life; it’s hard to reconcile all these aspects of his life in 98 minutes.
At the core of the film though, is his relationship with his high school sweetheart Faith, played by Nicole Beharie. Faith now has a son and an ex-boyfriend (son’s father) who is attempting to remain an active presence in the life of Faith and of their son. Much of Kyle and Faith’s past is left to speculation. We know their romance did not end in good terms, as indicated in the scene where they meet again.
After seven years, Faith holds a grudge. Kyle obviously chose his career over her, but her apathetic demeanor towards him doesn’t seem to justify her anger towards him. Their romance, however, is rekindled at a fast pace. Since their relationship is at the forefront of the film, I wish story focused on what caused the disintegration of their relationship the first time around. Gross and Beharie though, ultimately exude a natural and convincing chemistry. Their climactic key scenes are well acted and Beharie’s performance prevent her character from becoming unlikable.
There are good performances throughout. Calloway believably plays a mother who may seem selfish and emotionally aloof in pursuing her own interests aside from the lives of her children. Veteran actor Keith David, who plays Kyle’s father, is enjoyable to watch. There’s also a charismatic supporting turn from Mike Moss as Kyle’s friend and confidant.
Although the film falters from being unfocused due to multiple subplots, The Last Fall is an admirable effort from director Cherry. He was able to infuse the story with earnest sentimentality; much credit for that goes to Lance Gross; he competently anchors this film, and embodies a football player coming to grips with retirement at the age of 25. The film has definite appeal that audiences can enjoy; Cherry’s music video direction experience comes in handy in here and infuses the story with urban and commercial visual stimulation, also energizing the narrative with the film’s soundtrack.