Julien Neaves, Caribbean Head Writer
Plot: Taxi driver and part-time pimp Rocksy plans to hit it big by stealing and selling an expensive car. But his dream of a massive payout quickly turns into a deadly nightmare.
Review: The award-winning 2013 film was written and directed by Jamaican filmmaker Mary Wells, and has the distinction of being the first Jamaican narrative feature directed by a woman. It stars popular Jamaican entertainer Christopher “Johnny” Daley as small-time hustler Rocksy, who is not a nice guy. He’s selfish, short tempered, misogynistic, and treats his roommate/love interest/prostitute employee Rosie (Camille Small) like crap. He’s more anti-hero than hero, which makes it hard to root for him in his criminal endeavour. And maybe that’s the point.
Rocksy lives in a run-down Kingston ghetto and both he and Rosie dream of escaping the poverty and the uneven tune of random gunshots for the idyllic beaches on the other side of Jamaica, represented by a painting she has hanging on his wall. A chance encounter with a Lebanese businessman and his fancy new sports car (a sultry red Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution) and Rocksy hatches a plan to make their dream come true. Together with his friend Malt (Greggory Nelson) he successfully steals the car but that is the last thing that goes right for the duo.
On paper, Kingston Paradise sounds like a dozen other Caribbean crime dramas. But while many of those eschew narrative and character development for lots of bloody gunfights, this is not the case here. There are guns but they are more used for threatening and posturing than actual firing. And there are only a handful of scenes that could be considered “action”, though each is done well. The story is something of a slow burn too. Wells is more concerned with exploring class structure, gender politics and crime and punishment. And there are no heroes or straight-up villains here (save for one minor character) but rather people trying to make a better life for themselves. If they survive, that is.
I can’t say I loved Kingston Paradise or that I was riveted by it, but maybe that was because it was not the film I was expecting. In retrospect it is a well told, grounded film with solid acting, especially from Daley and Small. Oh, and it would be remiss of me not to mention the very good soundtrack. Straight fire.
So yeah, take a visit to Kingston Paradise and you may find it an interesting place.
Score: 7 out of 10
You can watch the film for yourself on Caribbean streaming platform Pavilion+. And you can check out more great Jamaican crime drama content below:
Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating tabletop games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Read more.