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It’s been a great year for New York City authenticity in film. Two months ago, sibling directors Josh and Benny Safdie’s exceptional Heaven Knows What captured a shockingly realistic vision of the city’s junkie culture, using first-time actress Arielle Holmes’ personal experiences to flesh out a reality-meets-fiction story about an Upper West Side heroin addict. And now comes documentarian Keith Miller’s narrative debut, Five Star, an equally naturalistic look at Brooklyn’s gang world.
Like the Safdie brothers did with Holmes, Miller consulted real-life East New York Bloods leader James “Primo” Grant before writing Five Star, using Primo’s past experiences as the basis for this on-the-ground story about a teenager (John Diaz) who’s lured into an illegal lifestyle by a local crime boss (Grant himself).
Diaz’s character is the film’s heart, but Miller is clearly more fascinated by Primo, giving the charismatic and imposing Grant several monologues about masculinity and purpose. Fortunately, Five Star’s street-tested anchor has a God-given ability to own the screen, joining Heaven Knows What’s Arielle Holmes in showing that NYC’s best unproven acting talent are the inconspicuous folks riding subway carts alongside you on a daily basis.
Where to see it: IFC Center, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 12:35 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 6:05 p.m., 8:35 p.m.
NOTE: Five Star was a part of the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival, where it had its world premiere.