“Do you even care about your future? … What are you doing with your time?” asks a guidance counselor at the vo-tech high school in the opening scene of the indie film The Land.
The four teenage boys who sporadically attend the school shrug. Their focus and energy isn’t on welding class, but skateboarding. The guys film themselves doing tricks, and dream of getting sponsored and ascending into the professional-athlete class. It’s one way out of the run-down neighborhoods of Cleveland.
In the meantime, the boys make quick cash jacking cars, and one summer night they boost a “good” one: The trunk has a huge bag of ecstasy pills; there is also a gun. The plan is simple: Sell the drugs and use the money for skateboarding, new clothes and helping out their families. (The boys live in assorted levels of domestic unease, from one who has a dad who works non-stop to another who is close to homeless.) Naturally, the person they took the drug stash from is going to come looking for them — Cleveland isn’t that big of a town.
So yeah, it’s a familiar tale, but The Land has some things going for it. Writer/director Steven Caple Jr. films in his native Cleveland, and there is plenty of natural grit. Though it’s not all hood-centric doom and gloom — there are also moments are joy, camaraderie and the sense that the busted-up parts of a post-industrial city can be a playground for rambunctious, unsupervised teenagers. (One of the young actors, Moises Arias, was also in 2013’s The Kings of Summer, another celebration of teenage off-the-grid fun.)
The teenage actors, who also include Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Rafi Gavron and Ezri Walker, are mostly naturalistic, their noisy braggadocio barely masking their anxieties. And Caple grabs some better-known actors for some of the adult roles: Michael K. Williams and Kim Coates play struggling parental figures, and Linda Emond has a memorable turn as an unlikely adversary.
Fri., Aug. 12, through Wed., Aug. 17. Harris Theater.