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The Hard Stop | 2015 TIFF Review

Prior to the outrage manifested within the ‘I Can’t Breathe’ movement in the wake of several high profile murders of unarmed black men by overzealous police officers in the US, a young British black man named Mark Duggan was shot twice by London’s Metropolitan Police officers, killing him in cold blood, instantly sparking the disastrous London riots of 2011. It was later found that despite Duggan was not wielding a weapon as was originally claimed by the officers, the murder was deemed a lawful killing in court, setting a chilling, unjust precedent. Outlining the horrific events, George Amponsah‘s thin but upsetting The Hard Stop humanizes the departed by getting to know his closest confidants, Kurtis Henville and Marcus Knox-Hooke, revealing an imperfect, but hustling family man with a loving community behind him.

Striking with an unfortunate aptness, Amponsah’s film composites wrongly reported news footage with lyrical slow-mo of Duggan’s friends in torturous contemplation and generally somewhat bland vérité footage of them in the two years following Duggan’s death. While it’s clear that each of these men, Duggan included, have suffered from a life of inherited poverty, having grown up in the projects of Tottenham surrounded by drug trafficking and gang culture, Henville and Knox-Hooke are observed to be attempting to better themselves, leaving lives of dealing behind in favor of family, faith, steady employment and youth mentoring.

Most impressively, The Hard Stop exudes an aura of honesty with its subjects conducting themselves before the camera unfettered by vanity. Henville openly admits his past misgivings, light-heartedly discusses his hardships in finding employment and let’s his temper boil over while Amponsah looks on, actively talking him through his anger after officers refuse to release his confiscated dog without a proper muzzle in place. The man is obviously has his demons, but he can see injustice when its right in front of his face, affecting his loved ones and the community he’s grown up admiring.

A bit more even keeled before the camera, Knox-Hooke is seen dealing with the reality that he will serve time for his caught-on-camera part in the riots that took place in the wake of his childhood friend’s murder. Yet, he reveals himself to be the more emotionally generous of the two, not just chanting a mantra of injustice, but inviting us to share in the pain he lives with through pained expressions and hard fought tears.

While The Hard Stop, named after the controversial in-traffic police tactic taken to forcefully stop Duggan in a heated moment of shock, takes a humanizing look at the community members hardest hit by this violent wave of court protected oppression, the film tends to meander in inconsequential character moments, only finding tautly edited tension late in the final court ruling of Duggan’s killing. Not only that, but it does little to explore what can be done beyond briefly touching on the possibilities of youth mentoring and non-violent protest. Politically speaking, just giving these men the voices they were never afforded in the mainstream media may be enough to warrant a feature, but cinematically, maybe not.

Reviewed on September 10th at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival – City to City London Programme. 85 Minutes


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