Rob Peace Sundance Review: Bland Biography Juggles Too Many Subplots and Tones

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Rob Peace, the second film directed by Academy Award-nominated actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, is the type of movie that has an incredibly important message but fails to navigate its story in a way that said message can shine through. The result is a film that would be near-excruciating to suffer through were it not for solid performances that allow the emotional core to scrape by.

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The movie tells the true story of an inner-city kid as he triumphs over adversity to become a star student at Yale, only to be dragged back down by the cycle of violence that plagues his community. Unlike many biopics, Rob Peace does not tell the story of some well-known figure in American history but a person whose life may have been swept under the rug were it not for a biography written by the subject’s friend. It’s exactly as didactic as you would expect, and worse yet, it fails even to be inspiring.

Rob Peace is primarily frustrating because of its number of subplots and tonal shifts. Yes, the film is based on a true story, and the subject lived a crazy life, but it starts as an inner-city youth drama before becoming Breaking Bad — with some cancer drama, legal drama, and science jargon sprinkled throughout. It’s altogether too much to handle in one two-hour movie.

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Rob Peace tries to move viewers but underwhelms

And yet, despite this, Rob Peace’s pacing is incredibly off. It’s boring because Ejiofor’s approach takes the dullest possible approach to telling this story. Yet somehow, it also feels like it jumps over a lot. For example, the protagonist goes from discovering how to synthesize new strains of marijuana to being the top dealer on campus in a matter of minutes. The film is full of leaps in time and logic like this.

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Although Ejiofor successfully elicits the audience’s sympathy for the protagonist and his situation, it feels as if he is unwilling to engage with the nuances of this story beyond the surface-level “tragic” reading. Ejiofor wants us to see and pity this kid who came from a rough childhood, carved a path for himself by going to Yale, and had his life cut too short, but he fails to evaluate how this situation is endemic to the broken society in which we live. The telling of this story feels far too compartmentalized for it to have the impact it could have — and deserves.

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Thankfully, Ejiofor’s star power is enough to draw some talented performers to work on the movie. Ejiofor himself has a prominent supporting role and keeps most of the juicy material to himself, but Mary J. Blige also has a few really great scenes. Camila Cabello is… present. She doesn’t get to do much. But Jay Will, in his first major leading role, has an incredible screen presence that’s almost enough to keep viewers engaged despite how bland the script is.

From a technical standpoint, the film is entirely competent, even if it lacks anything that feels like a particularly distinctive style. The only flourish that Ejiofor adds to give Rob Peace any flair is the soundtrack, which adds some much-needed energy to combat the overwhelming lethargy of its script.

Rob Peace is a movie that means incredibly well but loses sight of what makes its story compelling. Strong performances keep this incredibly dull drama afloat between its massive, off-putting tonal shifts. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s directorial debut wasn’t bad, so one has to wonder what went wrong here.

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Rob Peace is screening at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, which runs January 18-28 in-person in Park City, UT and online from January 25-28.

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Rating: 4/10

Also Read: A Real Pain Sundance Review: Jesse Eisenberg’s Second Film as Director Is an Incredibly Poignant and Deeply Funny

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Sean Boelman

Written by Sean Boelman

Articles Published: 175

Sean is a film critic, filmmaker, and life-long cinephile. For as long as he can remember, he has always loved film, but he credits the film Pan's Labyrinth as having started his love of film as art. Sean enjoys watching many types of films, although some personal favorite genres include music documentaries, heist movies, and experimental horror.