Young ac­tor an­chors sci-fi thriller Kin

The Peterborough Examiner - - Arts & Life - ROD­NEY HO New York Times News Ser­vice

AT­LANTA — Twin broth­ers can make great sci-fi en­ter­tain­ment as proven by the Duf­fers, who de­vel­oped Net­flix’s run­away hit “Stranger Things.”

So the pro­duc­ers of “Stranger Things” de­cided to gam­ble on an­other pair of twin broth­ers, Jonathan and Josh Baker, to cre­ate a film fea­tur­ing a young teen who rides his bike a lot and gets him­self into all sorts of su­per­nat­u­ral trou­ble.

Ti­tled “Kin” and star­ring At­lanta new­comer Myles Truitt as the con­tem­pla­tive teen Eli, the film also fea­tures Den­nis Quaid as Eli’s tough-as-nails adopted dad Hal, Jack Reynor as Hal’s ne’er-do-well son Jimmy, James Franco as nasty crime lord Tay­lor and Zoe Kravitz as Milly, the strip­per with a heart of gold. It comes out in wide re­lease Aug. 31.

The Bak­ers, who grew up in Aus­tralia, have spent years shoot­ing ads but, need­ing to scratch a dif­fer­ent cre­ative itch, re­leased a short film called “Bag Man” in 2015. That film led to this full-length fea­ture, which art­fully blends sci-fi el­e­ments, a fam­ily drama and a road trip with a gritty, indie vibe.

When Eli is seen play­ing a “Ter­mi­na­tor” up­right video game at a restau­rant, that homage is de­lib­er­ate be­cause this film pos­sesses many el­e­ments that evoke the 1984 Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger clas­sic, right down to a shootout at a po­lice sta­tion.

The Bak­ers, in a re­cent in­ter­view, said they knew the most cru­cial cast­ing choice would be Eli, who finds a weapon that is clearly not of this Earth in an empty Detroit fac­tory while rip­ping out cop­per to make a few bucks.

Myles has a rel­a­tively light re­sume for some­one handed a lead role in a ma­jor film: He played the young Ron­nie DeVoe in BET’s sur­pris­ingly pop­u­lar “New Edi­tion Story” last year and a boy badly wronged in a flash­back episode of FX’s “At­lanta.”

The Bak­ers had al­ready looked at 250 to 300 other ac­tors but found Myles’ low-key ap­proach re­fresh­ing and on-point for “Kin.”

“Most ac­tors that age are try­ing to im­press you and over­act and the truth goes out the win­dow,” Jonathan Baker said. “We were look­ing for a par­tic­u­lar level of emo­tional ma­tu­rity. This is a per­son who knows when to be quiet. Myles can be en­er­getic off cam­era but he can pull it back and be small and sub­tle. This film is small and sub­tle. We needed a lead ac­tor to back that up.”

The film in­deed avoids the loud, block­buster ap­proach in favour of quiet mo­ments punc­tu­ated by the oc­ca­sional bang, typ­i­cally from the crazy gun Eli totes around.

Myles said it wasn’t a ma­jor stretch for him to play Eli be­cause he con­sid­ers him­self “a very in­de­pen­dent soul. I like do­ing things my­self.”

There were mo­ments in the film where the pro­duc­ers had Myles do takes where he yells and gets an­gry but ul­ti­mately used the ones where he di­als it back and gives a more con­tained per­for­mance.

Myles said he was anx­ious the first week be­ing the lead guy but the cast and crew helped him loosen up. Quaid would joke around with Myles and even try to sing bits of trap mu­sic.

Amid all that, Myles said he fo­cused on hu­mil­ity.

“I don’t like to flex and fawn,” he said. “I don’t see my­self as bet­ter than any­body else. I just keep it push­ing and be my­self.”

While Eli is ul­ti­mately in­no­cent and sym­pa­thetic, the film­mak­ers faced a chal­lenge with Reynor’s char­ac­ter, Jimmy, who is just out of prison but faces im­me­di­ate mor­tal danger with Franco’s malev­o­lent crime leader.

“He per­son­i­fies the bad path for this kid,” Josh Baker said. “He is clearly a bad in­flu­ence but we had to en­sure the au­di­ence doesn’t hate him the en­tire time. You get to the end and hope he’s re­deemable.”

Quaid, the pro­duc­ers said, was drawn to the film be­cause it en­abled him to play a few shades darker than his nor­mal film per­sonas. His char­ac­ter is beaten down by life and he im­parts that wis­dom to his adopted son.

And Detroit is a char­ac­ter in the film as well, a sym­bol of Amer­ica’s glo­ri­ous past, now beaten down. “We talked a lot about the theme of de­cay,” Jonathan Baker said. “De­cay of the en­vi­ron­ment, de­cay of the fam­ily struc­ture. The three male fig­ures are all pass­ing ships in the night with no an­chor.”

They do take the film on the road part­way through and in­tro­duce Kravitz’s em­pa­thetic strip­per char­ac­ter. “They are all bro­ken char­ac­ters who find each other,” Jonathan Baker said. “It makes for an un­con­ven­tional fam­ily unit.”

The end of the film does scream for a se­quel or two. If “Kin” does well, Lion­s­gate will surely give them a shot to do it all again.

“We have a story that goes well be­yond this movie if peo­ple are in­ter­ested, if there’s a hunger for it,” Josh Baker said.

But they will have no choice but jump the time frame for­ward a bit.

The film was shot in Toronto nearly two years ago when Myles was 14. He has sprouted nearly six inches since then and is al­most six feet tall.


Den­nis Quaid, left, and Myles Truitt in "Kin." Quaid plays a tough dad to his adopted son.


James Franco plays a nasty crime leader in "Kin."

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