To Live Die And Live
Picture of Derrick Dunn

Derrick Dunn

Sundance Review: To Live Die And Live

With his latest film, To Live and Die and Live, writer and director Qasim Basir returns to filmmaking after a four-year hiatus. In his latest film, Basir introduces us to Muhammad (Amin Joseph), a handsome, strong Hollywood director. Muhammad tries to navigate through a rebuilt Detroit’s gorgeous and alluring landscapes. He returned to the motor city for his father’s funeral, Khalid, a respected building contractor. However, Muhammad has been struggling with addiction which he hides from the outside world.

This addiction drives him to immediately disappear into the sultry, late-night, drug-addled after-hours of Detroit and into a romantic relationship with Asia (Skye P. Marshall), which is just as intoxicating. He is seeking an escape from reality and a way to cope with his addiction, and he finds it in Asia’s company. He is drawn to her to fill the void that his addiction has created in his life.

Muhammad is a man who is struggling to cope. His close family and friends turn to him for strength and guidance. He forges ahead, shouldering all of their needs, claiming he has it under control, even though it is a lot, maybe even too much for him. The situation changes when his father’s associate, Kevin (Omari Hardwick), arrives with a blue accordion folder filled with items of business that his son must handle.

Qasim Basir won me over in 2010 with his film, Mooz-Lum, and his follow-up films Destined and A Boy, A Girl. A Dream. For his fourth feature, Qasim Basir gives Amin Joseph from the hit show Snowfall a chance to lead a movie.

One of the things that instantly allowed me to identify with Joseph’s portrayal of our lead character is the layers that he provides. With his alpha male bravado, Joseph has always had a prestigious screen presence. In the film, though, he is much more reserved and vulnerable. Sometimes in the movie, he extends more grace to people he hardly knows.

It is a stark contrast to the people in his own family who have been in his life for a long time. In certain scenes, he shows genuine sincerity and compassion, and then in the next scene, he seems cold, distant, and withdrawn in responding to the situation. His actions could be because his family and close friends have certain expectations of him. 

It causes him to put up walls when expressing his true feelings. However, with people he doesn’t know, he can be more open and vulnerable with his emotions. While the film is the Amin Joseph show, Corey Hardrict, Omari Hardwick, and Skye P. Marshall deliver solid supporting work.

My favorite moment in the film occurs when Mo ventures to his alma mater. Its film club has asked him to give a speech. Muhammad draws on his bitter disillusionment with the industry to dissuade students from pursuing their aspirations. He argues that the film industry is full of empty promises, pointing out that it has people looking for a quick fix rather than being dedicated to the craft. He implores students to use their talents elsewhere and not throw their lives away chasing a dream.

I must advise viewers that To Live and Die and Live isn’t a happy film, and the pace is deliberately slow. Think Leaving Las Vegas and The Gambler but with a black lead. Nevertheless, with Snowfall ending, Amin Joseph is ready for the big leagues after this performance.

Final Grade: B+

To Live and Die and Live is currently seeking distribution.

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