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Mickey Hardaway

Updated: May 5

Released 2023. Director: Marcellus Cox

"LIFE IS HARD," SAYS THE TITLE CHARACTER to his psychiatrist. Hard enough for the young man to lose his mind and walk out with a gun. Mickey Hardaway is a social commentary armed with good intentions from writer-director Marcellus Cox, an expansion from one of his earlier short films.

Mickey is blessed with a talent from a young age. The boy is never without pencil and paper, always sketching and drawing and he’s very good at it. Instead of being encouraged, Mickey’s gift is never appreciated or nurtured at home. His dad Randall actively snuffs the boy’s dreams. Growing up under a generational cycle of abuse masked as discipline, Mickey endures harsh beatings and constant belittling. His mum Jackie tries to sooth the domestic tension but is unable to stand up to the violence of a raging alcoholic husband. At school, Mickey is bullied and well-meaning adults do their best to point Mickey in the right direction. After a violent confrontation with his dad, Mickey walks out and never returns.

Cox is relentless in making sure we get how hard life is for the talented artist, piling on Mickey’s hardship through the years. Struggling alone, working two jobs, massive loan repayments, broke and on the verge of homelessness, then betrayed when one of his art creations was hijacked by someone he trusted. Mickey tells Dr Harden he feels like a failure and is crushed when the psychiatrist sends him away because his session time is up. What follows is an irreversible tragedy.

I’m not familiar with the cast, who deliver seasoned performances that require them to vigilantly monitor their emotional level. At the top of the pack are David Chattam and Gayla Johnson who play the parents, as is Ashley Parchment, whose portrayal of Mickey’s girlfriend Grace is the most natural and believable. Rashad Hunter brings a bitter energy to the role of Mickey though at times overshadowed by his co-stars.

The rhythm of the editing is uneven and some scenes are heavy-handed, particularly the therapy sessions when the exchanges between the two men are flat and over-written. For the most part the script verbalises every detail for extra emphasis, when a more subtle approach to allow the audience to fill in the details ourselves might help us to empathise with Mickey’s trauma and pain on a visceral level.

One moment that shows Cox’s filmmaking savvy is when the scene switches momentarily from monochrome to full colour and changes in aspect ratio. The awareness that Mickey’s world has brightened up with Grace and he’s feeling truly happy for the first time is vividly communicated without having to rely on much dialogue at all. Apart from this short scene, the entire movie is shot in black-and-white and the cinematography quality varies; a couple of scenes are compositionally hazy and washed out by backlighting. One dramatic image is the close-up of Randall’s profile when we realise he’s projecting his own failed personal aspirations on his son by taking his frustrations out on the young man.

The constraints of a small indie production may be to blame and digital filming is consequently the way to go. In this instance, however, the smooth and slick imagery is an injustice as it lacks the grittiness that would have added to the torment experienced by the protagonist in a visual sense. Sound mix is patchy in places with ambient noise in the background distracting from the dialogue, such as the piano playing at the meeting between Mickey and Hammerson, the editor who later takes advantage of the naïve artist.  

In a movie with an artist at its heart, with his works described as “fresh, smart, funny and bold”, it’s disappointing that we never get a good look at them. Ben and Chips, Mickey’s much talked-about comic strips, and Hurricane Clam, the cartoon character Hammerson would eventually steal, are noticeably absent from view. We never see Mickey actually drawing other than a few light dabbing strokes on already completed drawings. The portrait sketches that we do see suspiciously resemble Photoshop manipulations of photographs. I hope I'm mistaken and that isn't true, otherwise it’s disrespectful in a movie all about a gifted sketch artist.

Looking at the wider theme, Cox is clearly attempting to ask some tough questions. You could feel the impassioned vision in the filmmaker to shine a harsh light on the cruel reality of a deteriorating mental state of a disturbed dreamer. Despite some conspicuous flaws that compromise the result, this is an earnest social commentary delivered to heighten awareness and hopefully spark meaningful conversations.


Click image above to view trailer. New window will open.


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