“CHANGING THE GAME,” the second feature from Philadelphia independent filmmaker Rel Dowdell, surely cannot be faulted for its scope or ambition.
The movie is a literary, sprawling, age-of-globalization story about a North Philadelphia guy with a genius I.Q. who goes to Penn and then to high finance, and learns that Wall Street (surprise!) is no less treacherous than the mean streets he knew as a youth.
Sean Riggs plays Darrell Barnes, whose worldview derives from two major texts: His loving grandmother (Irma P. Hall) teaches him the Bible, and his drug-dealing best friends (Dennis L.A. White, Sticky Fingaz) introduce him to the philosophy of Niccolo Machiavelli.
The latter serves Darrell best when he graduates from Penn and starts making money for an investment firm, while privately leveraging his own money in a fund managed by a patrician he meets in the Ivy League. The bursting financial bubble causes difficulty on both fronts, leaving a scapegoated Riggs to summon all of his education and street cunning to set things right.
There is a big gap in “Changing the Game” between its scope and its budget. The movie spans two or three decades, travels to London and Thailand, straddles Darrell’s humble upbringing and his jet-setting “1 percenter” lifestyle. Dowdell shot the movie locally on a shoestring budget, and never really convinces us that we’re spanning the globe, or witnessing the glamorous life of a major Wall Street player.
“Changing the Game” doesn’t have the resources of a Hollywood movie, that’s obvious. But it is has one thing many Hollywood movies do not have — an ending.
Dowdell (and co-writer Aaron Astillero) establish “Changing the Game” as a contest between the conflicting influences in his life — Christianity and Machiavelli. We naturally expect Riggs to make a choice. Dowdell, however, comes up with a clever third option, rewarding viewers who look past some of the flaws and stick around until the end. n
Contact movie critic Gary Thompson at 215-854-5992 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog, “Keep It Reel,” at www.philly.com/keepitreel.