Review: Sing Sing | DIFF 2024

Score: A-

Director: Greg Kwedar

Cast: Colman Domingo, Paul Raci, Clarence Maclin, Sean "Dino" Johnson

Running Time: 105 Minutes

Rated: R

Anchored around a tremendous lead performance from Colman Domingo, Sing Sing is one of the year's most empathetic and powerful films.

But for much of the movie, it seems that the film won't go any deeper than the surface. But as it goes, it reveals layer after layer of its many characters, making them more than archetypes. It would be easy to label the film as a "crowd pleaser," but that wouldn't do justice to how raw and painful the film is in its depiction of America's cruel carceral system.

Domingo plays Divine G, an artist wrongfully convicted of murder. While waiting on appeals and clemency, he throws himself into writing and performing as part of a theatre troupe. He's grateful for a creative outlet, but desperately wants his co-stars to perform a dark satire he's written. When new recruit Divine Eye (Clarence Maclin) joins the cast, he disrupts the group with his ideas for an outlandish comedy where he gets to recite Hamlet's famous soliloquy.

The auditions and rehearsals are light and even funny. And Divine G remains optimistic and helpful to his brothers. But when the sledgehammer of life hits hard, it seems all their hard work will be for nothing. This last act is painful, but deeply authentic. As much as these men care about their performances and inner lives, the outside world simply doesn't. They may earn some freedom performing on stage, but it won't last long. America cares more about locking up Black men than helping them.

It would have been so easy for the film's white director to pat himself on the back and make a nice movie about performance and community. And Hollywood probably would have rewarded him for it. But as he explained after my screening, the multi-year process to make this film forced him to change his process. He collaborated with the film's many former inmates to give it real authenticity. Several of its deepest moments are improvised, but based on their real pain.

Still, the film refuses to wallow in the suffering. It breaks you down but builds you back up. This is not a story of triumph over a corrupt system, but of art's power to keep the system from crushing the souls of its captives. It may not always be a feel-good movie, but you feel will be genuine.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.