It’s easy to become disillusioned, particularly when the same end result is reached regardless of the work or effort put in to create a different outcome. Often, there are technicalities that enable criminals to escape justice for what they’ve done, and a verdict deeming them free to go isn’t necessarily indicative that they have not done wrong, merely that they are not guilty of a specific charge as defined under the law.
Public defenders face the arduous task of going up against well-funded adversaries intent on finding whatever loophole might exist to exonerate their clients or prosecute challengers. Sometimes, they need to get creative, though their methods are rarely as extreme or dangerous as what’s portrayed in Naked Singularity.
Casi (John Boyega) is approaching his limit after working as a public defender in New York City, and he’s at risk of losing his job too, since a steely judge (Linda Lavin) finds him disrespectful and is eager to penalize him for his do-gooder nature. When he encounters a former client, Lea (Olivia Cooke), who works at a car auction tow pound, he learns about her plan to help Craig (Ed Skrein), a local thief, steal from a drug cartel. With the help of his friend, the less scrupulous public defender Dane (Bill Skarsgård), Casi considers taking a bold, unprecedented step towards securing his own future, which is made even more complicated by Lea’s uncertain loyalties.
At face value, this film is a crime drama, one that finds a man who has spent his entire life upholding the law considering breaking it since, as far as he knows, no one will get hurt in the process. Yet, as the film’s official summary indicates, there’s more going on here, indicated by the note that Casi is seeing, in addition to a failure of the perseverance of justice, “signs of the universe collapsing around him.” There is talk throughout the film about how the universe works and the experiences people go through in every version of it, alluding to a grander scheme that involves multiple iterations of choices and possibilities.
While that concept is featured, it’s purely theoretical and not a direct part of the film’s narrative. Yet it does prompt Casi to believe that there is a greater purpose to the things that he has done and will do, and that this could be his one shot to forever change the course of his life. He does seem to exist in his own world, adamantly going after justice in a courtroom and system that has no interest in actually achieving that, and this is merely him taking back the reins of his own destiny, augmenting his potential with minimal collateral damage.
Boyega is an actor who rose to prominence for roles in films like Attack the Block and the latest Star Wars trilogy, and recently earned dramatic accolades for starring in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe. This part meets somewhere in the middle of the entertainment value of a sci-fi blockbuster and the weight of a drama about oppressed communities. The always fantastic Cooke tries on a new accent with a similar energy to what she has brought to breakout roles in films like Thoroughbreds and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Skrein and Skarsgård provide ample support in more limited parts.
This film, which comes from director Chase Palmer, best known for his work on the screenplay of 2017’s It, is an intriguing specimen, one that engages its audience in a venture that may not be quite as monumental as its protagonists believe it to be but is still extremely influential in the scope of their lives. Those hoping for an interdimensional twist that explains the gold sword Casi holds on the film’s poster will be disappointed, but this well-acted, decently-written human drama does have an interesting if mildly peculiar story to tell.
Naked Singularity opens at Village East by Angelika in NYC on Friday, August 6th, and then in wide release and on demand on August 13th.