Spike Lee’s Pass Over brings Antoinette Nwandu’s play of the same name to the screen, delivering something that’s neither a fresh work nor your run-of-the-mill filmed play.
Pass Over begins with shots of St. Sabina Church and Priest/social activist Michael Pfleger, subjects of Lee’s fictionalisation in previous feature Chi-Raq. Thankfully, Pass Over is both more subtle and far less troubled by misogyny.
Lee emphasises Pass Over’s status as a play that directly reflects and comments on the contemporary US by framing the performance with docu-style footage of St. Sabina locals piling on to a bus and heading to the theatre. Though he transitions from reality to performance with a smart match cut, lingering shots of audience members during and after are all Lee really adds to the play.
Nwandu’s play, billed as a reimagining of Waiting for Godot, is a bitter treat and the true gift of this production. It’s a feat of philosophical gymnastics which condenses the current American moment onto a single street corner, drawing staggering and unprecedented connections between Beckett’s play and contemporary African-American lives. Hill and Parker’s eloquent performances manifest two divergent characters – one taut with suppressed rage, the other sad and soulful – and convey a beautiful friendship.
Lee’s accoutrements fade into almost irrelevant obscurity, though his translation of the performance itself to cinema is near faultless. Forget a single-camera set up; Pass Over is fully cinematic and includes a lot of surprising angles. Sometimes Lee disorients by using two shots of a quick movement in sequence, yet Pass Over has a thrilling balletic physicality even on screen.
Pass Over the play is a timely Trump-bashing satire and it’s great that, thanks to Lee’s profile and Amazon’s distribution, it’ll reach a wider audience. Pass Over the film, though, would sink with lesser material at its centre.
CAST: Blake DeLong, Ryan Hallahan, Jon Michael Hill, Julian Parker
DIRECTORS: Spike Lee, Danya Taymor
WRITER: Antoinette Nwandu
SYNOPSIS: Two young men pass the time dreaming of the promised land.