TOP FIVE Movie Review
Chris Rock is one of the great stand-ups, a master of his craft with sharp satirical wit and an indignant energy. When it comes to Rock’s career as a actor, he’s never really found or been offered a role in Hollywood that truly plays to his strengths. Chris Rock has never displayed ambitions for being a dramatic character actor, he knows that what he does best is all part of his persona that’s tied to his comedy. Top Five is Chris Rock taking the initiative to write a script that allows him to reinvent himself in a comedy the way he utilizes himself in his stand-up, a magnified reflection of his own personality.
Andre Allen is a character that Rock uses similarly to Woody Allen in Annie Hall and Stardust Memories, a semi-autobiographical look at his career in the entertainment business in a brutally honest and circular way. Chris Rock had shown his desire to portray his appreciation for cinema in his last directorial effort, adapting Eric Rohmer’s Love In The Afternoon into I Think I Love My Wife and the trial and error he encountered in translating that film in a successful way has clearly helped him mature into the confident filmmaking witnessed in Top Five.
Rosario Dawson deserves credit for what she brings to the table as The New York Times critic interviewing Andre and adding believable chemistry as they simultaneously explore meaningful things about themselves and discover the strong compatibility they share as their evening unfolds. Dawson’s character could have just been another cinematic mouthpiece for Rock to slam his critics, which has actually become quite a trend in film this year, but she adds a dimension to this character and intelligence that elevates her beyond a stereotype. Dawson has a range that she doesn’t always have the opportunity to show in her work, but her performance in Top Five actually helps elevate Rock’s performance as well.
Top Five is a dialogue driven film and thankfully Rock’s great writing outweighs the sometimes distracting cinematography of frequent Lars Von Trier collaborator Manuel Alberto Claro. When the photography is unobtrusive, the New York background is like another character in the film but the transition from long takes to some shaky handheld shots often disrupt the flow of the urgent pace. Rock has never made anything his career as ludicrous as Hammy the Bear or dramatic as the role of Dutty Boukman, the Haitian leader of the successful slave rebellion, but comedy is exaggeration and he understands this very well.
Chris Rock has plenty of friends show up in cameos and for the most part uses them to hilarious effect and he even gives a subtle nod to one of his favorite bands that he made a music video for back in 2006, it would have been very interesting to see what he would have done with Dave Chappelle if he hadn’t turned down his role. Overall Top Five succeeds because it’s funny, witty and heartfelt as Chris Rock offers ruthless insight on many subjects from looking at critic-proof comedies to examining pop culture like the subtext in Planet of the Apes. Top Five shows how Chris Rock is maturing as a filmmaker and an actor and shows how comedy works best with enthusiasm and heart.