Young Love, Blaxploitation, Pam Grier, “Cinnamon” Has It All

Cinnamon blew me away. Channeling the Blaxploitation films of decades past, it feels dated and current in the best ways. It played at Tribeca Festival, and the flick leans into Blaxploitation, even casting queen Pam Grier to astounding effect. The direction is outstanding, along with a soundtrack that ratchets up excitement, worry, and bouts of sweet nostalgia for young love. It’s easy to underestimate Cinnamon as a mere genre film. But the connection between the two leads crafts a compelling movie that hits higher emotional peaks in this hilarious thriller.

Written and directed by Bryian Keith Montgomery Jr., the film follows a gas attendant and aspiring singer and actress Jodi Jackson (Hailey Kilgore). When someone robs the gas station where she works, her life becomes much more complicated as the plot continues to twist. Cinnamon harkens back to films of yore, supplanting the old narratives with fresh blood, blending multiple genres in its 91-minute runtime. And I cannot convey how much I appreciate a movie that does not overstay its welcome. At a time when 1.5-hour films are more of an outlier and longer films feel like resentful directors punishing their audience, Cinnamon is crisp, vibrant, and all-around fabulous.

Cinnamon Has Star-Crossed Lovers Finding Their Way

Cinnamon - Tribeca

Jodi has that “at your wit’s end” look down to a science. When she’s on the bus, and a Puerto Rican man talks to her, she immediately shuts him down. Jodi’s in no mood for the typical, unwanted, random man trying to pick her up. Except it turns out she knows Eddie (David Iacono). They both attended school together. Their past, combined with Eddie’s cheerful demeanor and comedic bent, softens her, and they hang out.

Their relationship is beyond sweet. As Jodi tells Eddie about her dreams to sing and act, he doesn’t sit idly by, especially after she belts out the lyrics to “House of the Rising Sun.” He puts his money where his mouth is, helping her get an opportunity to make her music. They hatch a plan for a future where Jodi realizes her dreams. However, it sets off a chain of events that puts them both in jeopardy. For all the chaos that happens, their relationship has a foundation of trust and love. Given the circumstances, it’s odd to smile and let out an “aw” when they’re together, but that speaks to the movie’s strength.

The Cast Needs Accolades in This Genre-Blending Blast

Hailey Kilgrove and David Iacono deserve recognition. Their IMDb credits aren’t vast. But that better change because both carry Cinnamon to the finish line. Their chemistry is believable, capturing how young love feels so fresh and new at its start. The pair together wrench emotions from the viewers as you cheer for them to come out of the situation together, against all odds. Jeremie Harris, as James Walker, also has the handsome villain down. His demeanor screams “mama’s boy” at every turn. But it’s best not to sleep on the threat he poses. Bryian Keith Montgomery Jr. directs with a surety that fills every scene with intent.

My sole gripe is that Pam Grier feels underutilized in Cinnamon. Still, her presence is commanding each moment she’s on screen. Aside from the romance, there’s a comedic aspect with Damon Wayans’s character, Wally. He reminds me of Morris in Goodfellas, oblivious to the danger. His character doesn’t try to be funny necessarily. He’s someone who, based on their voice and responses to questions, inspires laughs at their attempts to lie. It’s unsurprising that Damon Wayans delivers. There were many characters he portrayed in In Living Color that are so memorable. It’s a shock they all come from the same talented actor. The film’s title would be at home with those like Pam Grier’s Foxy Brown or Coffy. Seeing a movie that hits such entertaining and emotional highs is refreshing. I almost cried at the end because the song, combined with the scene, pulled at my tear ducts, beckoning my sobs. But I resisted. Barely. Cinnamon is that arresting, hitting romance, crime, thrills, and whodunit notes for an irresistible viewing experience. I excitedly await the next film from these stars and gifted director. Y’all did that.

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