Marcellus Cox is a filmmaker from Los Angeles who has exclusively made short films until this year. Of the eighteen projects he has written and directed, one from 2020 was a nineteen-minute story named ‘Mickey Hardaway’. Since then he has been working to adapt this into his feature debut, taking many of the same actors with him, as he raised a still anaemic $30,000 to make a 1hr 46-minute film. This is that project.
Mickey Hardaway stars Rashad Hunter as the titular character. Mickey is a young black man in his mid-twenties. As the film opens, we see immediately how this story will end. The man we will come to know as Dr Cameron Harden (Stephen Cofield Jr.) – Mickey’s therapist – is sat on his city apartment balcony of an evening with his partner, when the doorbell rings, and he opens the door to find Mickey there holding a gun. Mickey shoots the therapist dead. We then go back a few weeks to Mickey being encouraged by his partner Grace (Ashley Parchment) as he is readying himself to go into a house in the suburbs for his first session with the therapist.
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From there, we cross-cut between a number of these sessions, and the story of Mickey’s life from childhood – shot in a cold black and white. He is raised in a home with a loving mother, but an abusive, alcoholic father, of whom his mother is clearly afraid. When one of his teachers, Joseph Sweeney (Dennis L.A. White), identifies the boy’s deep talent for illustration, he invites him onto a residential art programme. When his father – Randall (David Chattam) is asked for permission to allow his son onto the trip, he refuses, arguing that art is a waste of time, and that Mickey needs to learn that dreams are pointless – that he will need a proper job. When the teacher takes Mickey home to plead with the man, Randall attacks him. Mickey is beaten regularly by his often-inebriated Dad, who even keeps from him an offer of a scholarship onto an art degree.
Leaving home after a final, violent encounter with the overbearing parent, Mickey struggles to fund himself. Helped by his former teacher to get a job at a local recreation centre to fund himself through college, Mickey meets Grace, and makes a name for himself in the animation world. Without giving too much more away, the abuses of his trust do not begin and end with his father, with his work being stolen, and the therapist being a last hope for the young man, as he starts to drink heavily to dull his pain.
We get a wonderfully human performance from Hunter, as he starts to address a couple of decades of pain with the therapist, only to feel abandoned again as his hour expires each week. This leads him to put his relationship with Grace at risk, to make the doctor feel that he is letting the young man down, and to expose a level of damage with which he struggles to cope. As he heads towards a conclusion that we, the viewer, already know is coming, we begin to wish, against all logic, for a better outcome for the young man; an outcome we know we will not get. Mickey has been trained by experience to have zero trust, and the film shows the people he interacts with living down to these low expectations, with devastating results.
Marcellus Cox clearly has talent. We are being given the story of a young man that we know from the start is destined to become a murderer, yet we root for him throughout the story. Rashad Hunter bears a physical resemblance to John Boyega, diminutive, stocky, yet strangely unassuming – and, most importantly, very likeable. Parchment and White do excellent work as the audience surrogates, desperately wanting this young man to succeed and overcome his demons yet being relatively helpless to assist. This is an inexpensive feature that is, nonetheless, very well shot and deeply engaging from its very earliest frames.
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If the film has one flaw, it is slightly heavy handed in its final scenes, as Mickey’s former tutor talks to a police officer about how his pupil never stood a chance, given the consistent abuse he had suffered his entire life. This is self-evident from what we have seen, and really does not need articulating in such a clunky way.
At such a low cost, Mickey Hardaway is full of talents that have worked largely under the radar, yet we feel we are watching quality performers in every single role. It is genuinely exciting to see what everyone involved here does next.
Mickey Hardaway is playing at the Golden Door International Film Festival 22nd-24th June, the Roxbury International Film Festival 26th June, and Dances With Films 29th June, before releasing worldwide on Digital from 25th August on Prime Video, Tubi, and other platforms.