Rob Peace (2024)

Sundance Film Review: Rob Peace

Film Reviews

Sundance Film Review: Rob Peace
Director: Chiwetel Ejiofor

Hill District Media and Participant Media
Premiere: 01.22

When an actor turns to directing, their sophomore film is where they prove the first outing wasn’t a fluke. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Rob Peace proves that, but it doesn’t prove that he’s a great director quite yet.

Robert DeShaun Peace (Jelani Dacres, Wu-Tang: An American Saga) is a boy growing up in an impoverished area of Newark when his father Skeet (Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave), a small-time drug dealer, is arrested and charged with murder. Skeet insists that he’s innocent, but Rob’s mother, Jackie (Mary J. Blige, Mudbound), worries that her boy will be seen as the son of a convict if they stay in their neighborhood. Jackie’s determination for her son’s will to have the chance at a better life is matched by Rob’s drive to see his father free. Years later, Rob (now played by Jay Will, Tulsa King) is balancing his time between preparing to go to Yale on a scholarship and trying to get his father released from prison. Rob, a genius majoring in molecular biophysics and biochemistry, puts his efforts exploring loopholes to get Skeet’s conviction overturned. He still needs a capable attorney, though, and ends up dealing marjuana to pay legal fees. As Rob walks a tightrope between the promise of a bright future and the specter of a dark past, he must find balance or fall—and fall hard.

Ejiofor, best known to audiences for his roles in 12 Years a Slave and Doctor Strange, first came to Sundance in 2019 with his first movie The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind.He has adapted the biography The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs into a brisk screenplay and his skill with actors is undeniable. Rob Peace is a heavy drama driven by complex characters and committed, nuanced performances, and it doesn’t need unnecessary visual flair to keep the audience engaged. When Ejiofor trusts himself as a storyteller, it’s hard to find much fault. These skills make it all the more frustrating when he makes the unfortunate choice of abruptly focusing on stylish gimmicks during the most pivotal moment of the story, overpowering what should be an unforgivingly raw scene with poorly executed slow motion and quick cuts. The majority of the film is strong enough that it’s able to survive this misstep, though there’s no question that it drops the movie down a couple of notches.

Still, the acting is pitch-perfect, with the full extent of Jay Will’s magnetic leading man presence coming as as a thrilling surprise. There’s a major star in the making here, and his nuanced portrayal of this unique individual is brimming with charisma and intelligence, vividly bringing this fascinating character to life. Ejiofor has given himself an outstanding supporting role in Skeet without ever giving in to trying the steal the movie from his central character. Blige is commanding and sympathetic as Jackie, and the supporting ensemble is stellar.

Rob Peace is an imperfect film, though it’s a memorable and moving one that is worthy of attention. Ejiofor, whose stage background includes acclaimed work performing Shakespeare, capably tells a tragic tale that is worthy of the Bard himself—if he can hone is instincts a bit, he has the potential to be great storyteller. –Patrick Gibbs

Read more of SLUG‘s comprehensive coverage of the 2024 Sundance Film Festival.