Imperial Dreams

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Imperial Dreams Movie Poster Image
Dark yet inspiring tale has cursing, violence, drugs.
  • NR
  • 2016
  • 87 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Clearly portrays the challenges faced by young men newly released from prison. Lauds the determination and righteousness of one of these men, an African-American who tries desperately to change his life. Exposes both the bureaucratic and societal nightmares that such individuals face.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Bambi Jones is the admirable hero who refuses to succumb to the pressures of the urban gangster life, and fights wholeheartedly against a governmental system that seems to doom him to failure. He is thoughtful, intelligent, brave, a devoted father, and fully understands what is right. He frequently but unwillingly is responsible for placing his son in dangerous situations, but has no resources at hand to change things. Government agencies and its officers, while often sympathetic, are bound by rules and regulations that appear to prevent them from advocating on his behalf. Even the movie's villains reveal complexities. Women are portrayed both as authority figures and as victims of the city's drug-riddled culture.

Violence

While the actual violent episodes are few, a disturbing and life-threatening atmosphere is constant, with many scenes showing a small child in danger. Violent scenes include: a man revealing a bloody gunshot wound from which the bullet is extracted; the hero and his son chased by thugs with guns; a featured character is shot multiple times, dies, his bloody body observed by the hero and his child; adult brothers fight; a child awakens, terrified by the sound of gunshots; a master villain holds the hero and his son hostage at gunpoint.  

Sex

A woman bargains for her child's safety by offering veiled sexual favors; she is seen from the back as she prepares to take off her clothing. 

Language

Frequent swearing, obscenities, and racial slurs: "s--t," "ass," "jacking off," "bitches," and countless uses of "f--k" and the "N" word.

Consumerism

Blind Fox beer, McSweeny's publishing, Kids Puffs.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Alcohol and drug abuse, as well as drug sales, are central to the story. In what is seen as a "drug culture," some characters use and sell drugs, smoke tobacco and marijuana, almost continuously consume beer. One central character is a crack addict, seen semi-conscious and/or high in several scenes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Imperial Dreams is a hard-hitting, often unsettling and sad, portrayal of a young African-American man after he leaves prison with hopes of making a new life for himself and his son. It unquestionably feels real from start to finish, which heightens both the jeopardy and emotional content. Set in Los Angeles's Watts neighborhood, foreboding and menace accompany both hero and child. The child is terrified in a series of scenes during which he witnesses brutality. Violence incidents include: (Spoiler Alerts) a featured character shot multiple times; the bloody extraction of a bullet from a man's arm; man and boy running for their lives from gang-bangers; physical fighting; and characters held hostage at gunpoint. Drug and alcohol use, drug sales, and addiction are all major elements of the story. Profanity and ethnic slurs are pervasive ("f--k," "s--t," the "N" word). This remarkably poignant and moving film is recommended for mature teens and up.

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What's the story?

Bambi Jones (John Boyega) comes home from prison to the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles in IMPERIAL DREAMS to find that nothing has changed in his absence. His mother is still a crack addict, his uncle is still a strong-arm drug dealer, and his very young son, Dayon (twins Ethan and Justin Coach) has been living in a brutal world, with his mother in County Jail. It's Bambi's plan to get out and take his beloved son with him. What he faces, however, are forces both from his family and "the system" (law enforcement, government agencies, private businesses) that are set on defeating him. In every direction Bambi turns, doors close. The only things Bambi has in his favor, besides his powerful bond with Day, is his ability to write and and an ongoing faith in himself. As events happen and disappointments intensify, Bambi's resolve is relentlessly tested.  

Is it any good?

Prepare to be dazzled by the performances and deeply moved by the story in this heartfelt, realistic, impeccably-produced film by first-time feature director Malik Vitthal. Making the rounds of film festivals after its debut at Sundance in 2014, Imperial Dreams had a limited theatrical run and finally landed at Netflix where it, hopefully, will reach a wide audience, perhaps because its star, John Boyega, is now a leading man in the Star Wars franchise. Boyega is extraordinary as Bambi. And he's surrounded by a large company of seasoned, talented supporting actors. The Coach twins, who play Day with treasured understatement and charm, will break your heart. It's not always an easy story to watch -- Bambi's journey is often painful and scarily out of control -- but it's a journey worth taking. Highly recommended for mature audiences. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the filmmakers made Imperial Dreams feel real. What choices did they make (for example, use of close-ups, profanity) that made the movie both intimate and true to life? 

  • Think about the very last frame of this movie. What was director Malik Vitthal, along with his team, trying to communicate to his audience? What was your take-away from just this final shot?

  • How did the events in this movie risk both the physical and emotional well-being of Day? Did you agree with the outcome of Day's story? Why or why not? 

Movie details

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