Academy Award-nominated actor Chiwetel Ejiofor brings a heartbreaking bestseller to the big screen in his second directorial effort, Rob Peace. Ejiofor also pens the film's screenplay, which is an adaptation of Jeff Hobb's biographical book, "The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace."
The movie commences with an adult, Rob Peace (played by Jay Will), recording his admission essay for graduate school. The scene then shifts to the past, where we see a young Rob (Jelani Dacres) being picked up by his father, Skeet (played by Ejiofor), from his mother, Jackie's place (played by Mary J. Blige). It is quickly revealed that Rob is brilliant and well-liked by everyone around him. However, things take a turn for the worse when Skeet is arrested for a homicide, and Rob becomes determined to clear his father's name.
The film then jumps to 1994, with the titular character on the verge of manhood, now skillfully represented on screen by Chance K. Smith. In the hallowed halls of St. Benedict's Preparatory School in Newark, he showcases his academic prowess and athletic ability, notably as an agile water polo player. Aside from his commendable school performance, Rob displays prodigious intellectual curiosity as he reviews intricate details concerning his father's legal plight. Rob soon gets into Yale and heads out to find his place in the world while hoping to lose sight of his roots.
While in the Ivy League, Rob demonstrates exceptional academic proficiency and an inherent social finesse that does not go unnoticed. Not only does he attract the interest of his professor, Mare Winningham, but he's also held in high regard by his comrades; this includes Jeff Hobbs (Benjamin Papac), his roommate, who would later become his biographer. Adding another feather to his cap is his romantic involvement with Naya, portrayed by Camila Cabello. Unfortunately, as unexpected life events pile up, Rob risks everything to stay afloat.
I first read the book a decade ago and remember the rumblings of Michael B. Jordan and Stephan James being attached for the lead roles over the years. However, after seeing what Jay Will brings to the screen as Peace, it was best to go with a semi-unknown. Will first started gaining traction on the television series Tulsa King. He delivers a start-making performance here.
Will delivers a deeply genuine performance that lets you grasp why he was so dearly loved by all who knew him. The richness of Rob Peace's life, inspiring enough for a best-selling biography and now a film, truly shines through in his acting. Chiwetel Ejiofor also shines in the film as Rob's father. Some of the film's best scenes between the duo elegantly display the bond between father and son.
The supporting roles in the movie follow the typical archetypes usually seen in a biopic. It is refreshing to note that the director, Ejiofor, has drawn inspiration directly from Jeff Hobbs' biography and has given the author a minor role in the plot. Usually, in different circumstances, another filmmaker or studio might have made Jeff's character an overbearing white savior figure. However, Ejiofor focuses on the main character's journey and narrative and astutely avoids manipulating Jeff's character.
It's possible that some viewers could have a problem with the third act of the film as it seems to hurry through the story to uncover Rob's fate. Nevertheless, by this time, the audience has grown so fond of Jay Will's acting that they may be willing to overlook this issue. Rob Peace is highly recommended, with solid direction and strong performance from Jay Will.
Final Grade: A-
Rob Peace is currently seeking U.S. distribution.