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Rob Peace Film Review: Heartbreaking Biopic

A Black boy sits wearing a striped t-shirt and smiling in the film Rob Peace

With a very strong performance from lead Jay Will, Rob Peace manages to find both the emotional and funny moments in its tragedy.  

Director: Chiwetel Ejiofor
Genre: Biopic
Run Time: 119′
Sundance Screening: June 8, 2024
Release Date: August 2, 2024

“You bring people together,” says someone in Rob Peace to describe the titular character. This single line can easily sign up the entire film, as well as the main character. Directed by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rob Peace is a biographical drama based on a 2014 book by Jeff Hobbs called “The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace,” which is, in turn, based on Robert DeShaun Peace’s tragically short life.

The film follows Rob Peace (Jay Will) throughout his short life. At the beginning of the movie, we see the most significant events in his childhood, including perhaps the most life-defining and traumatic one of all: his father’s arrest (Chiwetel Ejiofor, of Locked Down) and life sentence. From that moment onwards, a lot of Rob’s life will revolve around trying to get his father out of prison and establishing what really happened with the murders his father is accused of. After his mother Jackie (Mary J. Blige, of Respect) decides to put him in a private school, Rob is accepted and later graduates from Yale University while also saving money to help his father, working in real estate, and applying to grad school.

The voiceover that welcomes us into the story and carries the audience through it works particularly well. Although voiceovers are often tricky to deliver successfully, with the risk of being too expositionary and repetitive, Rob Peace creates a narration that adds value to the overall film. By having Rob talk us through his story, Ejiofor allows him to reclaim his story and in some way be the one who is in charge of telling it. This is particularly important because Rob’s story was framed and told with a very specific narrative to it in newspapers, which his mother felt was not entirely authentic to Rob’s connection to his neighbourhood and his family background.

The acting is one of the strongest elements of Rob Peace. Jay Will is particularly impressive in his first feature film as a lead. His very realistic and emotional performance allows viewers to get to know the real-life story of Rob Peace, which many of us in the audience may have not been familiar with. It is truly a fantastic breakout role for Will, whose career I will be watching with interest in the coming years. Mary J. Blige is also a powerhouse in her portrayal of Jackie which proves to be both strong and emotional at the same time.

A Black man sits in a car with a navigating system turned on, looking back at the camera and smiling, in the film Rob Peace
Rob Peace (Republic Pictures / 2024 Sundance Film Festival London)

During the film, I kept feeling like there were too many different narratives, but perhaps that is the whole point. As Rob Peace goes on, we see multiple iterations of the main character: he is a Yale graduate, but also a teacher at the private school he went to and also a son who is desperate to do anything to save his father. This may be unusual to see on screen – biographical films tend to prefer a singular clear narrative, often easier to portray – but it feels very real. By including everything that he was and everything he did, Ejofor is able to create a final ode to Rob that is heartbreaking in its realism.

However, I wish Rob Peace had explored its supporting cast better. While both Rob’s mother and father really stand out in the story, the rest of the background characters are easily forgettable and hardly explored enough. A lot of the people that Rob meets at school or university are barely mentioned by name. As a result, they end up feeling plot devices like to drive the main story forward rather than fully-fledged characters. Ultimately, this hurts the overall story: if we had seen Rob build meaningful connections with the people around him – other than his family – the tragic end would have been even more heartbreaking than it already is.

Overall, Rob Peace is a very powerful film that touches on the very real system injustices that are very much present in our everyday lives. Its heartbreaking ending is even more tragic because of its realism. Stories like Rob’s are sadly constantly present in the news: while the audience may be able to understand where the film is going from the very beginning, we cannot help but root for the main character and hope to see everything he will accomplish in his future.

Rob Peace was screened at the Sundance Film Festival London, taking place on 6-9 June, 2024 at the Picturehouse Central in London. The film will be released in select US theaters on August 2, 2024. Read all of our Sundance reviews!

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