At the beginning of Home Again, director David (Sudz) Sutherland tells us that every year 3,000 immigrants are deported back to Jamaica from countries such as Canada, the United States, Britain and Australia. Often, they are long-established residents convicted of minor crimes who have had little connection with their putative homeland since childhood. Nothing is done to resettle them in Jamaica, where they are deeply distrusted and represent a significant social burden. Surprising then, given the scale of the problem, that three of those 3,000 would all converge in the same shoot-out in Trenchtown.
And there is the problem with Sutherland’s drama: It has been crafted to illustrate a social issue rather than tell a story. Each of his three protagonists represent a nation and a situation: Dunston Williams (Lyriq Bent) is a hardened American criminal looking to go straight; Marva Johnson (Tatyana Ali) is a Canadian mother separated from her young children by a stupid mistake; Everton St. Clair (Stephan James) is a British schoolboy who got caught joyriding with some drugs. To make sure we recognize that the deportation policies are essentially a violation of human rights, Sutherland makes all three deeply sympathetic, revealing Dunston’s tragically tough childhood, Marva’s unwitting role as a drug mule and Everton’s youthful irresponsibility as their back stories.
It is not that the plot into which Sutherland weaves the three lacks drama. On the contrary, it is rather melodramatic, full of the improbable coincidences that eventually bring the three characters together in Trenchtown, that poverty-stricken and gang-plagued Kingston neighbourhood. Dunston is taken in by a cousin who provides security for a vicious drug lord and so is forced to continue a life of crime – unless he’s rescued by his love for the drug lab’s winsome cook Cherry (Fefe Dobson). Marva, desperate to get a decent job so that she can get her kids sent down from Canada, is taken in by family in the countryside near Kingston, but her uncle has some nasty ideas about how she might pay the rent. Meanwhile, the young Everton has the hardest reception: His relatives have disappeared and he soon winds up living on streets that he is completely unequipped to handle.
The developed nations who simply dump long-time residents on a less-developed country look bad – Canada is about to pass a law making it even easier to deport convicted criminals – but Jamaica itself is portrayed here as a cesspit of drugs, gang warfare, corruption and prejudice. A rather unnecessary scene about Rastafarianism featuring Cherry’s sympathetic Rasta brother rather looks as though it were added just to right the balance a bit.
Bent’s performance as the tough guy encountering an even tougher foreign criminal culture is a strong one and James makes Everton’s descent into drug addiction heartbreaking. On the other hand, Ali can’t raise the put-upon Marva above the tear-jerking clichés about female exploitation and ferocious mother love to which the character has been consigned.
Rather improbably, two of the three are handed happy endings so the requirements of drama do belatedly trump political lessons in Home Again.