While I may not be the target demographic for Rel Dowdell’s Changing the Game there are certainly elements of the film that anyone can relate to whether it be the dealings with the difference in culture or the struggle of having to overcome something in your life. The film touches on a specific community within the African-American race while using universal themes to be able to connect with what could prove to be a more diverse audience. It is clear from the opening title sequence that this is a film of the independent nature, but the low-budget feel eventually finds its footing and meshes with the setting of the mean streets of North Philadelphia during the mid-80’s. Going into a film such as Changing the Game you are certain to have some kind of pre-conceived notions of what to expect and what you believe those results will be. This remains partly true for me as the film begins much like any iteration of street life we’ve seen before on film, but eventually grows into something more, something with a genuine soul behind it that despite its limited resources is able to show through and deliver the audience a satisfactory journey through one man’s rise, fall, and redemption. There are several factors that could be improved in several departments with Changing the Game, but at the end of the day and as the movie preaches, it has what really matters in life and that is heart.

Sticky Fingaz and Dennis L.A. White control the drug game in North Philadelphia. 
Dowdell (who also co-wrote the screenplay with Aaron R. Astillero) tells his story , at first, in a non-linear fashion that has us being introduced to a young Darrell Barnes (Sean Riggs in a committed and arcing performance) who seems to have become caught up in a life-threatening situation but adds depth to the situation and reason for the audience to care by giving us a glimpse at Darrell as a child and what his relationship with his Grandmother means to him and why it is so vital to his life and the story. It is clear from the beginning Darrell is somewhat of a brilliant guy as he recites Charlotte’s Web without looking in front of his grade school classmates. This early promise and push from his grandmother (Irma P. Hall) seems to almost be lost on Darrell as he joins his friend Dre (Dennis L.A. White doing much the same here as he did in Notorious) who runs a good amount of the drug distribution in the city. After this game goes naturally bad in certain areas Dre is killed by one of his dealers and Darrell sees it fit to make good on his promise to his Grandma and continues his education earning him a degree and takes a job with a powerful Wall Street firm. This leading only to the discovery that many members of the financial community are more dangerous than the gang members in his old neighborhood.

Riggs is the star here and carries the entire film, but he is also the only actor that delivers a good amount of credibility. There is something about the skill of acting that separates those who do it and the audience can see it is a persona, a facade they are putting on while others make that transition seem flawless and are able to become their character with ease when being captured for the screen. The key phrase there being “captured for the screen”. It is difficult, when those cameras are rolling, to deliver what feels natural in both movement and delivery and while Riggs demonstrates a fine handle on both of these aspects most of the time several of the supporting cast only have brief moments of authenticity. While I might not point this out otherwise given the limited resources available to the filmmakers it is the authenticity of the world being built here that the film depends on to relay its message in a sense where the audience can take it seriously and as a piece of credible storytelling that might happen to them given the circumstances. Brandon Ruckdashel has some nice bits of dialogue to spew as a classmate and partner who Darrell lends a good amount of money to start a business with. The problem with Ruckdashel is that we never buy into his act. He is meant to personify the greedy, upper class socialite who wants more despite having plenty, a white guy whose selfish ways are just as nasty as any drug dealer on the street. Still, the film does find room for Tony Todd (the Candyman series) to ham it up in a few scenes and that is always a delight to watch.

Irma P. Hall and Sean Riggs portray a partnership between grandmother and grandson
that motivates the story of protagonist Darrell Barnes. 
While Dowdell clearly has an eye for what he wants here and a good sense of his story and how it is told it is also clear he was likely playing one too many roles on the film as a closer eye could have been paid attention to the editing and pacing of the film. As I said earlier, the film starts out rather standard only eventually evolving into an interesting philosophical meditation on the teachings of Machiavelli and their emphasis on realism versus the bible and its tendencies towards idealism. In the end, the story finds a happy medium between the both while providing a conclusion that is genuinely surprising and will want to make you go back and watch the film a second time so as to try and pick up on things you may have missed the first time around. Changing the Game is a film about teaching lessons, about making dreams come true, and about overcoming the obstacles that society has set in your way by typecasting the kind of person you’re expected to turn out to be. It is a morally uplifting film and one that may suffer from a low budget and lack of resources, but has heart and determination of ten Hollywood productions; proving its own lesson true, that if you work hard, and we work together, anything is possible.

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