The winner of the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Ensemble Acting at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, is premiering this Thursday on HBO Max.
“Charm City Kings” is the story of 14 year-old “Mouse,” a motorcycle enthusiast who dreams of joining the Midnight Club. An infamous dirt-bike group that rules the streets of Baltimore in the summer and has some of the best riders and the best bikes in town. A summer that he hopes will transform him from the simple “8th grade Mouse” into “MNC Mouse.” Quickly escalates and Mouse finds himself walking a tight line between a right and wrong path.
Played by the young actor Jahi Di’Allo Winston. Mouse, is a charismatic teenager who will have you intrigued into wanting to know what his next plans are, and yet also exudes an air of innocence that breeds caution.
When we first meet Mouse, he is watching a tribute video of his brother who has passed away. He volunteers at the local animal hospital and shows a keen interest in possible being a veterinarian himself one day. When he goes over to introduce himself to the new girl down the street Nicki, we see that he is also a charming and smooth talker. But nothing lights his face up more than when talking about the Midnight Club and going to the “Ride” on Sunday nights.
His admiration for this group is practically blinding him to the reality of what it is they do; which is more than impressive bike tricks. While not initiated into the group at first he begins to hangout with the group’s leader, Blax, who is currently on parole and trying to stay out of any trouble. Blax is an old friend of Mouse’s older brother and somewhat of an idol to him.
While struggling to start up his quad after being laughed at by the MNC crew. Blax approaches Mouse and gives him some mechanical pointers, and offers him a chance to get his own new bike. Not by joining the MNC but by helping him out in his bike shop with cleaning and repairing the old bikes. It’s an opportunity that Mouse can not pass up and in doing so he enters into a friendship with Blax. A type of mentorship where he feels comfortable to go to him with his troubles, unlike anyone else.
In the beginning of the film we met Detective Rivers, who after meeting Mouse almost a year earlier through a community engagement program, takes a keen interest in his well-being and looks out for him. He helps him out of tricky spots, offers support and guidance and even helped Mouse get the job at the local pet hospital after seeing his interest in veterinary. Yet, Mouse does not seem too inclined to the idea of opening up to a police officer about his troubles. Even if he is someone he has known for a lot longer.
In an exclusive interview with MuseTV, Jahi Di’Allo Winston says that the relationship between Mouse and Blax goes deeper than just admiration and idolization. “Blax is sort of symbolic for the death of Mouse’s brother. So when Blax comes into the Picture he wants a piece and a sense of his brother and who his brother used to be, who he idolizes in a way. So if he can have a piece and be connected to his brother’s idol, it sorta of gets him back to a space of being connected to his brother.”
In Hollywood there seems to be a threshold that many will not cross when it involves characters of a young age. “Charm City Kings” does what many in Hollywood are too frightened to do; have young characters engage in activities that can lead to serious adult consequences.
Towards the end of the film we see the thin line between right and wrong that Mouse and his friends Lamont and Sweartagawd were walking snap and our young protagonist is backed into a corner, where his only options are to either accept the consequences of his actions or let an innocent man take the fall.
When casting for these young roles, director Angel Manuel Soto knew he had found the perfect actors when he saw how they were off screen. “It was in the chemistry when we brought them all together and I saw them interact right in front of me. They already had inside jokes, their chemistry right from day one felt like they had already been friends since they were little kids, and that is very hard to find when you have an ensemble cast.”
“Charm City Kings” premieres this Thursday on HBO Max and is also showcased in The New York Latino Film Festival and Urbanworld Film Festivals.
For more on the interviews with Jahi Di’Allo Winston and Angel Manuel Soto, checkout the YouTube at MUSE TV.