Riley’s “Sorry” an Audacious Look at Race
Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You has been compared to last year’s lighting rod examination of modern race, Jordan Peele’s Get Out and it’s easy to see why. The protagonists in each unwittingly find themselves in the midst of a white nightmare in which they may be consumed, their race and personality erased by personal compromise and insidious machinations.
However, the tone of each movie couldn’t be more different as Peele’s film is a slow burn exercise, effectively creating a sense of dread over its running time leading up to its grisly big reveal. Sorry on the other hand takes place in an alternate reality Oakland that’s familiar but just off-kilter enough to let us know that subtlety will be in short supply. Riley is very much in our face driving home his point about corporate greed and the vulnerable work force it exploits as well as other broadsides aimed at a world that looks very much like our own.
Desperate for a job, Cassius Green (Lakeith David) takes the first opportunity that comes along as a telemarketer with Regel View Industries. It’s never made clear just what he’s selling but he soon finds the secret to success after getting a piece of advice for co-worker Langston (Danny Glover) – use your white voice! Our hero does just that and before you know it, he’s the office superstar and gets the attention of the higher-ups who quickly make him a “Power Caller.” This is rarified air as Green is now part of the corporate elite, working in posh digs and pulling in commissions in the six figures. The head of the corporation, Steve Lift (an unhinged Armie Hammer) takes note of this and has plans for his sales prodigy.
While all this is going on, a strike is being organized by co-worker Squeeze (Steven Yeun), Green’s girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) is pouring her heart and soul into her first art instillation and a company known as Worry Free is recruiting families to work and live in their factories, assuring the public with congressional support that this is not a form of modern slavery.
Riley has a great deal on his plate and his ambition is admirable. While the competing themes may not get equal time, his willingness to bring racism, workplace inequality, and passing to the screen is refreshing. Tempted by money and power he could never imagine, Green is forced to question his morality, finding out just how far he’ll bend to serve his masters before he breaks. He finds out in a brutal, shocking manner, only to realize that he may be too late to amend for his past sins.
Riley’s third act jumps the rails, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing or out of synch with the eccentric world he’s created. I didn’t mind the film’s big twist but was annoyed by the ending that seemed a bit too pat and unresolved. There’s a sense the filmmaker realized he’d painted himself into a corner and couldn’t find a way out. No matter, Sorry is a daring, bracing work that needs to be seen, as it will be regarded as a key piece of a new, emerging black voice in American cinema.