As a social worker, Michael is expected to constantly be just around the corner. A black man in Baltimore just before the 2015 protests—protests ignited after Freddie Gray was assaulted by six police officers—he feels the tension in the air. The pressures inherent in both his occupation and his race are mounting by the second, with Terrence Wayne Jr. giving a tightly wound performance. But Hannah Trujillo’s Man Down can’t successfully harness such intensity.
The script attempts to tackle several sporadic themes and in doing so never confidently addresses any of them. Migrant identity and belonging are bones of contention between Michael and his Latina girlfriend Eva. So is the return of Eva’s deadbeat brother Eddie – the battle between the family you are born into versus the family you choose for yourself. Race, technology and activism, all are flippantly mentioned throughout Man Down – the narrative is stretched too thin, lacking clarity or momentum.
As the riots loom just over the horizon, Trujillo’s direction and design gradually add to the sense of impending doom. The relationships between the characters become ever more frayed until an explosive conclusion seems inevitable. But neither Michael’s fight with Eddie—a disjointed and clumsy performance by Samuel Garnett—nor the climactic news that the riots are underway, are enough to ignite this fuse.
Man Down is a pleasant production. It aims to personalise wider issues through the lens of a relationship, but in reality, it dilutes them to the point where they lose impact or importance.