Every week, Indiewire chief film critic Eric Kohn singles out a movie available for free streaming from our parent company SnagFilms’ library and tells you why you should watch it now.
Cesar Chavez is a towering figure of the American labor movement, and Diego Luna’s new biopic of the figure — which opens nationwide today — capably lays out the struggles endured by countless Latin American workers in the United States that spurred Chavez to action. But the story begins and ends during the height of Chavez’s career, and the struggles among lower class immigrants in America has sadly yet to wane. This is true for a much larger and diverse crowd than members of the Latin American community. Which brings us to Sean Baker’s “Take Out.”
American cinema largely reflects the conditions of a society that still has a hard time exploring its diversity. To put it simply: A lot of movies are made by white guys and revolve around white guys. American filmmaker Sean Baker is a white guy, but the four features he has written and directed over the last decade delve far deeper into the crevices of a country that contains many more stories beyond the market standard. With his acclaimed dramas “Take Out” and “Prince of Broadway,” Baker explores immigrant characters in neighborhoods where New York’s melting pot dominates the streets as they attempt to eke out livings under strenuous circumstances.
Shooting on the cheap with non-professional actors, Baker’s approach calls to mind the innovations of Iranian neorealism rather than anything in contemporary American cinema (save for the early features of Ramin Bahrani, another student of Iranian cinema). Both the Chinese deliveryman in “Take Out” and the counterfeit bag salesman in “Prince of Broadway” fully inhabit their crushing realities, while Baker’s unobtrusive camera creates a documentary-like naturalism that drains the artifice from each scene.
Possibly the most devastating slice of neorealism since “The Bicycle Thief,” Baker’s powerful drama “Take Out” (co-directed by Shih-Ching Tsou) focuses on illegal Chinese immigrant Ming Ding (Charles Jang) and, like the filmmaker’s previous feature “Four Letter Words,” takes place over the course of a single day. Separated from his wife and child by thousands of miles, Ming struggles through his thankless job while attempting to rescue himself from a punishing debt that has put his life in danger. Navigating the treacherous urban terrain on a creaky bike, he dashes from one location to the next in search of a few measly tips.
Both suspenseful and sad, “Take Out” turns the city into Ming’s biggest foe, with its never-ending traffic and oppressively bright colors that continually threaten to bury his plight. You’ll never forget to leave a tip again.
Watch it below: