Wri/Dir by Michael Larnell
Prod by Spike Lee, Michael Larnell, Julius Pryor IV, Albert A. Smith, and Marttise Hill
This movie is currently available on Netflix.
Cronies– produced, edited, written, and directed (in that order shown twice in the film) by Michael Larnell, is about two friends, Louis (George Sample III) and Jack (Zurich Buckner) and the entrance of a new person, a white kid, Andrew (Brian Kowalski), and the strain on their relationship, as one takes steps toward upward mobility while the other contemplates the idea. The two’s relationship becomes threatened with the entrance of Andrew, whom Jack constantly interrogates about his reasons for hanging around Louis, who he is, what his intentions are, and demands of Louis, to explain Andrew’s origins and why Louis hangs around him. What ensues next is a fun, trying, and revealing twenty four hours with Louis, attempting to purchase a doll for his daughters birthday, and the gang, fishing, hustling, doing drugs, and challenging one another, trying to get something popping, all while trying to stay legit and keep under wraps a buried incident that threatens to expose Jack as delusional about his persona and exposes Louis’ struggles with leaving complacency. What sets all of this in motion is that early in the film, out of fear and an attempt to scare off Andrew, Jack tells Andrew that he shot Louis’ father when they were kids, to protect him. From here on, Louis is faced with questions and truths that he has tried bury with constant inebriation and pivoting in the direction of careerism. The film sheds light on two prominent issues just starting to be discussed more in the media and in the public: trauma and street codes amongst black communities (protection of your brother at the cost of your own upward mobility and growth).
Cronies, executive produced by Spike Lee is shot in docudrama style where the characters are interviewed–along with several other characters like Louis’ girlfriend and mother of his child, Nikki (Landa Taylore) and Louis and Jacks old friend Corey (Michael Harvey)– in order to get a full scope of the incident. But what the film portrays, I will argue, is that in order to understand why someone would protect another person who would do something like murder, and what Louis continues to do, is that you need to understand the people on screen. There is an omnipresent documentarian (Larnell) that interviews the guys all individually and through the course of their day, about the incident, and about their lives, their motivations, their aspirations, and who they are. What comes out of it is short of a portrait of friendship, a portrait of a struggle with complacency, and a struggle to be part of a community and unspoken code that you may no longer feel you need to serve. What comes out of this 24 four hour period is that these young men, Louis, Jack, and Andrew, find themselves and find out that they are different, and yet similar, and all going through the same struggle: being men in America, and not quite fitting in to any norm. Louis and Jack don’t really prescribe to anything black except for the codes they follow, and Andrew doesn’t prescribe to anything white, aside from the codes he follows. All three are really trying to carve out a space in which they exist fulfilled.
While all three in this day, deal with the growing issue of the incident that has glued Jack and Louis together, and is starting to suck in Andrew, while rinding around trying to kill time before going to a dice game so Louis can gain some money they are simultaneously working to accept each other. Sounds like a real friendship huh? At one point in the film, while the three ride around St. Louis in Andrew’s jeep, and after Jack makes Andrew talk to some black women, Andrew gets fed up with Jack and his complaining about not doing anything (not talking to women, not getting high enough, not making money) and challenges him to go the extra mile and do harder drugs, to which Jack complains more, makes excuses why he won’t, to which Andrew says “I just called you out so we can go hit up on whatever you want… So whatever”, which Jack replies “Let’s do it then” and the three ride off to a friend of Andrew’s house. The bonds tighten over heteronormative American male interests (women, drugs, gambling, proving one’s rep) but what happens is an acceptance and an understanding of difference–a difference in values, what being a man is, such as when Louis gives weak explanation as to why Andrew’s car gets stolen in the hood– “Welcome to the hood, Andy”, a difference in motivations, a difference in desires, such as when Andrew takes Jack and Louis to a pool party, and we see Andrew behave as if nothing is festering, while Jack and Louis deal with their straining relationship, while in the midst of dancing, drugged induced white people–understanding that people are different and do probably way too much to protect their friends. The duo of Louis and Jack, and that guarding of your brother who may not be as well informed and understanding can be seen in other films depicting male friendships between people of color like in Do The Right Thing with Mookie and Buggin Out, Paid in Full with Ace and Rico, and even, if this film was a noir, Devil in the Blue Dress with Easy Rawlins and Mouse. What comes out of Cronies, which means friend, is that the layers created by having to hide, narrativize and protect your affection for your friend start to be pulled back.