BARRY is the first of what I assume will be numerous attempts to put his life on the big screen, and the fact that it is a modest and humble film makes it a worthy precedent. The story focuses on Obama's arrival in New York at the age of 20 and follows his journey of self-discovery. From his first night on the street to his college experience and his identity struggles, it is an ernest story that choses its moments carefully and presents an overall portrait of the man, as opposed to an in-depth examination... wisely so.
Set in the early 1980's the film boasts a drab urban-flavoured production design that recalls the work of John Singleton (Higher Learning) and Spike Lee (Clockers), as well as successors such as Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) and Alexandre Moors (Blue Caprice). If you're familiar with their work – particularly the aforementioned titles – then you will have a good understanding of how BARRY is presented. Its textures are monotoned with a neutral colour palate helping to solidify the film's multi-racial themes and the social disparity.
It goes without saying that a successful bio-pic requires a competent actor and Devon Terrell's lead performance in the film is a testament to the casting department. In addition to baring a striking resemblance to Barrack Obama, he also executes the mannerisms and speech patterns perfectly and proves himself to be an exceptional actor. It's amazing to think that this is his first film, and that he barely has any prior credits to his name. His turn in BARRY should earn him a career in front of the camera and I look forward to watching him flex his talent further. The support cast includes Ashely Judd as Obama's mother and Jenna Elfman as a friendly, albeit ignorant, socialite. Their appearances amount to little more than glorified cameos and while they do both deliver good performances, their calibre does feel like draw-card casting. The stand-out support comes from three young actors; Anna Taylor-Joy (The Witch, Split) as Obama's college girlfriend, Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton) as an aspiring graduate student, and Ellar Coltrane (Boyhood) as one of his earliest friends and roommates. Collectively their characters help Obama to find his moral fibre and play crucial roles in setting him on his historical course.
BARRY is not a groundbreaking film by any means, and it travels a safe road. It never aims for grandeur and invests all of its energy into exploring Obama's personality. It refuses to take a political stance and sits comfortably on the fence, being careful not to sway one way or the other. And by taking a non-biased approach director Vikram Gandhi has been able to present a compelling drama that relies on the strength of its performers and the smarts of its writer Adam Mansbach.
BARRY is a Netflix exclusive and represents another laudable in-house production from them, and therefore having their service is likely to be your only means of seeing the film for some time. While the pros & cons of Netflix's dominance is a debate unto itself I would suggest that their ongoing steady stream of branded content makes it a valuable asset to have at the touch of your remote control.