Verdict: Sorry To Bother You is powerful piece of activism wrapped up in humour so absurdist that getting swept along on this journey will be the biggest trip you take this holiday season.
Rapper and activist Boots Riley turns his hand to filmmaking with this wildly original script that subverts all expectations and will flip your worldview on its head. The film, released this summer in the US, had some trouble getting worldwide distribution (I wonder why…), but it’s finally here, and it’s more than worth all the trouble it took to get it to us.
Leading the film like only he could is Lakeith Stanfield, of Atlanta and Get Out fame, playing existentialist telemarketer Cassius Green. Nicknamed Cash, his call centre career skyrockets as he learns to use his White Voice on the phone. Explained to him by the ever-wise Danny Glover, the bit is simultaneously hilarious and wildly unsettling, perfectly encapsulating a facet of oppression that has the power to move you to both anger and tears.
The whole film inspires a visceral reaction, and doesn’t allow a single audience member to sit by complacently. The audience is made complicit in the racism of white party goers, the capitalist system designed to dehumanise workers, in Cash’s own class betrayal – simply by watching and observing the events.
Stanfield plays both Cash’s apathy and his reward-inspired drive with perfect flair, balanced brilliantly by the conviction of his anarchist artist girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson). Thompson (Annihilation, Creed II) has had a fantastic year, and this role may just be the jewel in her 2018 crown, as the true moral centre of this film with a bomb ass pair of earrings for every occasion.
Cash’s White Voice success leads him further into a twisted world of big bosses, the biggest boss brought to life terrifyingly realistically by the incomparable Armie Hammer. The nonchalance of Steve Lift’s particular brand of evil is as uncomfortable as it is funny, and Hammer carries it off beautifully.
Jermaine Fowler and Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead, Okja) are compelling as Cash’s friends and coworkers committed to protesting the unfair treatment of the telemarketers, while Omari Hardwick is brilliantly charismatic as the mysterious Mr. ______.
With a White Voice-cast of Patton Oswald, David Cross, and Lily James, the film really is brimming with talent, even in the most unexpected of areas.
Defying genre in every way, the closest I can get is a sci-fi space opera, but with both feet planted firmly in the grounding of Boots Riley’s activist roots. The satire is razor sharp, while the empathy for people stuck in an inhumane system is ever-present.
A staunch refusal to pull any punches makes for an uncompromising and powerful film. It certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s undeniably genius. If it doesn’t change your worldview, you’re either woke beyond belief, or so evil you can’t be saved. Either way, this film is essential viewing.
Sorry To Bother You hits UK cinemas on December 7th.