The Exiles

3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Kent MacKenzie’s forgotten indie basks in the retroactive glow of never having had a theatrical release—as if that somehow makes it a work of misunderstood genius. It captures gorgeous black-and-white images of the unglamorous side of Los Angeles and has a sympathetic eye toward that city’s Native Americans. But to praise The Exiles any further is to demean the truly landmark debuts of many other filmmakers: pioneers like John Cassavetes, who actually remembered to bring a boom mike to the set and record usable sound, or Charles Burnett, who turned poetic images into drama without resorting to manufactured “inner-thought” monologues.

Usually discussed in documentary terms, the movie isn’t one—but rather a staged re-creation of several events taking place over one night. MacKenzie, a well-intentioned USC student, was hanging around in downtown bars with several of the people who would become his cast; together they roughed out a script and made up their own lines. Yvonne (Williams), pregnant and lonely, zones out at a double feature; Homer (Nish) plays poker and later takes in the sprawl from a high vantage; Tommy (Reynolds) gets blitzed and hits on an amused girl in a bar. You’ll have to be capable of some pretty serious compartmentalization to be able to appreciate these characters’ mind-sets while ignoring the awkward acting, embarrassing slang and absent insight into the political status of post-reservation Indians. (They do like to drink a lot; how’d MacKenzie get away with that?)

That said, viewers nostalgic for shots of L.A.’s old Bunker Hill (mostly demolished in a controversial corporate-works project lasting more than 50 years) must make it a point to see the film. Every neon sign carries a retro thrill; the first few moments alone feature the “Angels Flight” funicular. The Exiles was namechecked in Thom Anderson’s fascinating 2003 meta-examination Los Angeles Plays Itself. But if we’re taking cues from Anderson’s doc, how about a revival of John Carpenter’s They Live—a film that says twice as much about L.A.’s underclass, and with “Rowdy” Roddy Piper?



Release details

Cast and crew

Kent MacKenzie
Kent MacKenzie
Homer Nish
Tommy Reynolds
Yvonne Williams
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