Cinnamon is a stunning directorial debut that displays a perfect blending of genres, bold performances, and an extremely distinct voice from Bryian Keith Montgomery Jr.
When I received the opportunity to attend the Tribeca Film Festival, my dream was to discover films like Cinnamon. This film follows Jodi Jackson (Hailey Kilgore, of Respect) who dreams of becoming the next big singer, but as she is struggling to make ends meet working at a gas station, those dreams seem as if they are farther from her reach than ever. She then meets Eddie (David Iacono, of The Flight Attendant), a local crook who immediately falls for her, willing to do anything to make her dreams come true. They come up with a risky plan, but with big benefit, which unknowingly sets off a chain of events that will put them both in great danger.
Cinnamon is brimming with style from the first frame to the last. Director Bryian Keith Montgomery Jr. draws from Blaxploitation films such as Shaft, making this film wildly entertaining. There is a lot of genre blending here, with influences of crime, comedy, romance, mystery, and thriller depending on the scene. Usually, this would make a film feel tonally inconsistent but since Montgomery plays into these genres so much, everything feels over the top and on brand for what is going on in the story.
This use of so many genres allows for the majority of the cast to give vastly different, yet mesmerizing performances. For the more comedic sections, Wally (Damon Wayans), who owns the gas station Jodi works at, is absolutely diabolical. Every time he said something, at least one person would laugh at my screening. From the dramatic accent to his body language, Wayans’ performance is campy to the max and works perfectly for the unlikeable presence he is supposed to have.
During the more thrilling sections, Pam Grier (Jackie Brown) gives a truly menacing turn. Every time she is on screen, the tone of Cinnamon becomes a lot more tense, to the point that, anytime she would do something as simple as adjusting her glasses, the characters in the scene, along with the audience, would gasp. There is a sheer power to Grier’s on-screen presence, which is hard to come by making her limited amount of screen time some of the most captivating scenes in the whole film.
However, nothing would have felt thrilling if we did not have an emotional stake in the romance, which is the beating heart of Cinnamon. Kilgore and Iacono don’t have a lot of time to make the audience care about their relationship, given this film is only 90 minutes long, but they use every second to their advantage. Their chemistry is infectious, and even when they were just looking at each other in the scene where they meet, it was obvious that this relationship was going to be the highlight of Cinnamon. Even though the couple ends up doing something unethical to make Jodi’s dreams come true, it’s impossible not to root for them, or at least care for where they will end up once the dust settles.
Looking back at Cinnamon, I couldn’t find any issues with the film. The story is consistently unexpected and fast-paced, allowing you to be completely invested for the whole runtime. Everything, from the costuming to the music choices, feels meticulously planned, only adding to the already iconic vibes established from the start. While this might not end up on my top 10 of the year list, Bryian Keith Montgomery Jr. shows so much promise, especially since this is his feature film directorial debut. And the film deserves all the praise I hope it will get.
Cinnamon premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on June 11, 2023 and will be out on Tubi from June 23. Read our list of 15 films to watch at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival!