Out of the films I saw at Tribeca this year, one that sticks with me is Live Cargo. It could be the beautiful black and white cinematography. It could be the unconventional storytelling. Or maybe it was the moving performances and skilled direction. Out of the number of reasons that the movie still haunts my film nerd dreams, the number one reason is because I left it feeling like I partook in a refreshing cinematic experience that was as pure and passionate as something from a graduate thesis film but technically proficient enough to study and dissect in the same class!
In the film, we find Nadine (Dree Hemingway) and Lewis (Keith Stanfield) at one of the lowest points of their married life. They’re sitting in a hospital room, noticeably apart, while Nadine holds her newborn baby’s corpse in her arms. The black and white film emphasizes the moment even more, stripped of its color, just like the couple’s world has been. In order to escape and heal, they go to the Bahamas. It’s where Nadine grew up vacationing and learned to dive with Roy (Robert Wisdom), the guy that knows everyone and is the self-described policeman of the island.
Upon arriving they meet Myron (Sam Dillon) who is on the boat helping Roy for the day. Myron is a young man who was abandoned on the island by his parents. He knows the island, he knows how to survive, and he knows he wants Nadine. He survives by working for the major boatmen of the island, Roy and Doughboy (Leonard Earl Howze).
As the film moves forward we witness Nadine and Lewis as they deal with their loss. They’re like similar ends of magnets; attempts at coming back together are thwarted by the ordeal. Yet a slowly brewing turf war on the island just might be what they need to bring them together.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Cinematographer Daniella Nowitz captures gorgeous frames worthy of a print ad at times, while using the black and white to simultaneously catch tones and textures we wouldn’t usually notice. The sweat seeping through a shirt, or glistening off of someone’s forehead stresses the heat of the island and the work of the islanders. The lack of color itself, in a place where we would expect to see stunning hues, forces your focus on the story while enhancing the way you take it in.
Director Logan Wyatt allows the images to speak more than his actors at times (and their performances are wonderful). How do you put loss into words? What’s the cost of a life? Wyatt explores these questions by letting his actors be in the moment and cutting the film together in such a way that his audience can contemplate and draw conclusions. Having grown up partially in the Bahamas, his intimate knowledge of island life shines through by acknowledging the beauty of it while not exploiting it like a Sandals commercial.
The cast has the right blend of magic. Veteran Robert Wisdom is a driving force as the patriarch of the island, while Howze brings an underlying jaded ambition to his character. Hemingway, Stanfield, and Dillon give natural, nuanced performances that make for an intense triangle with tension slowly building beneath every interaction.
There is no question that Live Cargo may not appeal to some, because of its unique narrative and shooting style. It’s a mood piece that works visually and aurally to evoke emotion while telling its story. If you go with it, there’s no doubt in my mind that it will stand out in yours as well!
Check out my interviews with the cast and crew: