Daniel Kaluuya has an impressive acting resume, his choices for a young actor have been exceptional, including an Oscar winning performance as Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah. So it comes as no surprise his directional debut alongside Kibwe Tavares is well executed, he’s a talented filmmaker.
Set in 2044 in a futuristic Cyberpunk London, ‘The Kitchen’ is London’s last remaining social housing estate. The condemned estate is populated by London’s poorest residents, abandoned by the government and society as a whole. They’re left to fend for themselves, which has resulted in the formation of a self sustaining slum run by gang violence.
Despite the grim reality, amongst the towering grey apartment blocks there’s a bustling community, lit up by neon hologram advertising for the vendors that line the streets, selling food and necessities, they even have their own resident DJ Lord Kitchener, in what is an unexpected and excellent performance from football legend Ian Wright.
We’re dropped into the story at a time where residents of the kitchen are under siege from the police. They’re being heavily surveilled by drones and regularly raided by riot police who storm the estate, dragging them out with claims they’re illegally occupying the area.
The story focuses on two central characters Benji a 12 year old boy who’s mother recently died, he doesn’t know his father and is now left an orphan. He’s played by newcomer Jedaiah Bannerman and it’s a wonderful first time performance. Lonely and looking for guidance Benji is groomed to join a gang led by Hope Ikpoku Jnr. The gang use motorcycles to run ‘smash and grab’ jobs and justify their actions as a rebalancing of the system.
Top Boy’s Kane Robinson plays Izi who works for a funeral home that composts the dead for families that can’t afford traditional funerals. He’s on the cusp of leaving the kitchen and has saved enough money to move into a luxury one-bed apartment. With his days numbered on the estate he’s reluctantly pulled back in due to the vulnerability of youngster Benji, his ex-girlfriends child. With Benji at risk of being permanently recruited by gangs he takes him under his wing.
The film gives us glimpses of the world outside of its slums and it’s a spacious, ultra modern, luxurious place with driverless cars and expensive boutique shops. This adds to an almost claustrophobic atmosphere and illustrates how the poorest of the poor are dehumanised, piled into barley livable space, left to live in squalor and brutalised by the police.
The Kitchen would have been just as compelling even without the cyberpunk sci-fi setting. The social issues raised aren’t far-flung from today’s reality, with many facing housing issues brought on by the cost of living crisis, many families are turning to food banks for survival and gang violence is an increasing issue in London with moped gangs targeting individuals and shops.
This is Kane Robinson’s best performance to date, his chemistry alongside first time actor Jedaiah Bannerman is superb. Which in the context of their characters relationship with Izi becoming a stronger father figure, it’s possible some real world mentoring of the young actor from Robinson may have influenced both of their on-screen performances, they’re both excellent.
The Kitchen is visually stunning with a heartfelt story of hope, against a backdrop of poverty and anarchy. Its impressive cyberpunk setting could have been explored further but the world Daniel Kaluuya and Kibwe Tavares have created looks open for further exploration. The combination of great story telling against such a well crafted visual representation of future poverty is a testament to Kaluuya’s talent and vision as a Writer/Director and he’s created one of Netflix’s best new releases.