When I walked out of Kin, I was reminded why I do this. Not to tell people about the obvious, like that the new Transformers blows or that the new Denis Villeneuve movie is great. It’s to tell people about the hidden gems, the movies that I end up liking despite the odds being stacked against them.
Kin is a feature length adaptation of a short film called Bag Men, following a teenage boy named Eli (Myles Truitt), who discovers a strange and futuristic weapon in an abandoned building. When Eli’s brother Jimmy (Jack Reynor) returns from prison and gets into some hot water, which accidentally gets their father Hal (Dennis Quaid) killed, the two go on a roadtrip/run-for-their-lives trip. Pursued by criminal gang leader Taylor (James Franco) and two mysterious figures from an alternate dimension (or something of the like), the brothers bond with one another and a stripper named Milly (Zoë Kravitz).
I would first like to address a potentially unnerving element of the film’s theme. The movie puts a lot of stock into the power of the gun, which in turn appears to make the young Eli feel powerful. This “power of the gun” angle, combined with the brother’s proclivity to get the two of them into criminal activity, could be seen as sending a troubling message to youth about the strength of guns and crime. But I would also argue that the same could be said for Eleven, one of the main characters of Stranger Things. Eleven kills countless bad-guys, her “power” being derived from weaponization. But I would argue that Eli only initially perceives that his power and confidence comes from physical strength, and that the end of the film is specifically ambiguous about the “goodness” of the power of the gun and Eli’s criminal brother.
That aside, the compelling nature of the characters outweighs the potentially tonally confused message of the film. Eli and Jimmy are likable, and their chemistry feels genuine. They feel like brothers, who love each other and are willing to put themselves on the line for each other. Jimmy is dumb and impulsive, but never in a way that felt frustrating. Truitt and Reynor play their parts well, and it is their relationship that carries the majority of the film. Franco’s character, while over-the-top, is a fairly menacing villain, hitting that crazy, drugged up crime boss vibe. I did chuckle, however, at Quaid’s performance, as he seemed to be doing his best Harrison Ford impression, straight down to the finger-wagging thing that Ford loves to do.
The movie is less compelling when it leans more towards science-fiction than drama. While the cinematography is pretty great, the futuristic/alien tech doesn’t look like anything we haven’t seen before, and the twist at the end of the movie had me more confused than shocked. The sound design was good, if not a little over-reliant on the dubstep-esque techno sounds that permeate films like this. But I couldn’t help but feel like a straight-up drama about these characters might have made for a better film. The set-up at the end for a potentially more sci-fi focused sequel has me concerned that the filmmakers don’t know what the best part of their movie is: the characters.
Is Kin perfect? No, not by a long shot. Is it one of the year’s best films? No, not even close. But it is an entertaining movie, with likeable characters, good performances, and interesting cinematography. I enjoyed myself watching Kin, which is a lot more than can be said about almost every movie I’ve reviewed this summer.