It’s not so much the journey of getting the shoes but what they ultimately represent to a lot of people. Eventually the mission of young Brandon to get his Jordans back from a vicious neighborhood psycho becomes a lot more than re-claiming a piece of goods. It becomes about re-claiming a part of himself, and perhaps taking a chance on something that could either mean his doom or prove that he’s capable of going very far in his life, and perhaps farther than anyone figured.
“Kicks” is a coming of age movie but it’s also a pretty adult coming of age movie that doesn’t shy way from its environment. It’s about toxic masculinity, sexuality, and the moral decay within the familial community, and how many of the people within it are hanging by threads. The presence of adults and parents are slim to nil, and those that do have parents really seem doomed to a life of crime and or murder. When Brandon meets his toddler cousin for the first time, he sees him lying beside his uncle’s glock. And there’s a heavy focus on villain Flaco who seems to love his son, despite having stripping parties only a few feet away from him.
Justin Tippings’ “Kicks” is not an easy film to watch but it’s a damn satisfying one that spotlights an underdog hero who goes on a personal mission to prove to everyone that he’s capable of surviving in a pretty relentless and cruel world. I can kind of understand and relate to the initial conflict that Tippings presents within “Kicks.” Brandon is stuck with a worn out pair of shoes and is desperate to garner some kind of status by owning a brand new pair of Jordans. To him the Jordans are just about everything and will improve his standing socially, but they also open him up to predators.
As a kid we were always turned off from getting very popular shoes for the risk of having them stolen or being robbed, so we always had to opt for lesser brand sneakers for our safety. It’s just the risk you run. Brandon is an undersized and reluctant teenager who lacks the confidence and swagger of his two best friends. After buying a pair of Jordans he begins to experience a new found sense of confidence and it becomes somewhat contagious, as everyone draws their eye on him.
Sadly on the way home from school, he’s approached by a group of men, all of whom beat him up for his shoes. The leader, a man named Flaco (a fantastic but terrifying Kofi Siriboe), takes his shoes and leaves him bruised and bloody in the streets. Everyone tells Brandon to let it go, and just buy lesser shoes for the sake of his own health, but a fire that begins burning within Brandon helps him develop in to someone who realizes the incident he experienced might be a reflection of who is becomes as an adult. At his own peril, Brandon goes around looking for Flaco hoping to confront him and take his shoes back, but he slowly realizes that Flaco isn’t someone you want to confront. Let alone get mad.
At one instance in the story, Brandon gets in touch with a long lost uncle (Mahershala Ali) who has a firm grip on his sons and has been in jail constantly. Hoping to garner his help, even he insists that he leave Flaco alone and just face that the shoes are gone. This doesn’t stop Brandon though, as he’s encouraged (and sometimes antagonized) by the vision of a space man who leads him in to passages that decide his next stop. Perhaps Brandon is being led, or maybe his own fantasies are justification for some rather heinous choices he begins making by the second half of the film.
If I had one complaint it’d be that Tipping meanders too often with “Kicks.” At one instance he literally breaks the momentum of the story for a party montage. Nevertheless “Kicks” stops becoming about the shoes in the third act and launches in to a deeper issue concerning role models, and the risks worth taking for material possessions. There’s a period where Brandon literally can not turn back and has to face whatever approaches them, which is about as adult and brave as anyone can hope to be.