A Thousand and One

This Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner features a mother and son story like no other.

“A Thousand and One” is a near perfect movie about how a parent from a bad background can give her child a better background. It’s a mother and son story that never condescends, and uses the right themes to express how a hustler and a child can make each other’s lives better or worse. It all depends on how they ended up under the same roof and where they both come from.

Set in NYC in the early 90s, the movie tells the story of a mother fresh from prison, whose son was placed in foster care. Her name is Inez (Teyana Taylor from “Coming 2 America”), and she decides to give her timid boy Terry (Aaron Kingsley Adetola from “Rise”) a better life, by kidnapping him, and changing his name from Terry to Daryl Raymond. Terry would be his middle name.

When the boy enters his teens (Josiah Cross from “King Richard”), he’s still the quiet one, but his school grades are excellent enough to get him in the best schools. He doesn’t want to go, but she wants him to have the education and life she never had. This is a window of opportunity for him, and he has to take it.

Then, there’s also Inez’s on-and-off lover Luck (William Catlett), who is also a jailbird, and comes to live with them. But rest assured, he isn’t the lazy and abusive boyfriend to threaten her or her son. He’s the well-meaning father figure, who sometimes takes some heat from Inez. I’ve never heard of this actor, but he has the tone and value of Coleman Domingo.

Writer/director A.V. Rockwell makes her directorial debut with valuable aspects on how kids can do better than their parents, who come from low circumstances. The young mother in “The Florida Project” is a bad influence on her kid because of how she curses and plays hard rap music in her presence, but Inez wants to be the good influence on her son. Taylor, Adetola, and Cross all reminded me of Naomie Harris, Ashton Sanders, and Alex Hibbert’s characters in “Moonlight.” They’re both African-American dramas that reflect on harsh environments and how the offspring can struggle to overcome whatever obstacles cross their paths. Plus, their words, emotions, and dispositions reflect their dramatic and poetic nature.

Other than a few unnecessary moments, the movie kept me involved and wondering how their lives will turn out. Will the mother eventually get in trouble with the law? And will the son make the right choices of having a future? I can’t say for sure. But I can say “A Thousand and One” delivers with the right notes.

The last 20 minutes are gripping as we unfold the consequences of stealing a foster kid, and it tests our senses. I can’t imagine their tragedy, but seeing how Rockwell directs and how Taylor and Cross both act really pushes the tension. It thickens as the story unfolds, and believe me, it’s absorbing. This movie has the right mind to be released by Focus Features, because this studio usually finds fresh entertainment with real character studies and complex narratives. If you read my enthusiastic review and see it, you will not forget it.

Rating: 3.5 out of 4.

Categories: Crime, Drama

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