Edgar is a young teen like many others, who goes to school and likes hanging out with his friends. But in two essential but diametrically opposed ways, he is not like his peers: he is incredibly academically gifted, and he has a dangerous friend named Hector.
But on the day he gets good news from a school counselor, Edgar is confronted with the seeming irreconcilability of his choices, and the chasm widens in unexpected ways.
Written and directed by Jose Acevedo, this short offers up elements of lyrical urban drama, slice-of-life thriller and a portrait of a young genius at a crossroads. But to reduce the film to its genres or its plotline is to leave out the power that its thoughtful artistic approach, unique storytelling and impeccable craftsmanship exert in provoking thought and questioning the ideas of achievement, young people and socioeconomic status.
The biggest trick that the film uses in its meaning-making falls under the spoiler category — which makes it hard to discuss here without muting its impact. Luckily, the craftmanship also goes the distance is subtly and stealthily setting up this central revelation to land with maximum impact.
The storytelling is almost structured like scenes from different movies, with distinctive visual approaches that capture Edgar like a prism, with each facet offering a different view of his identity and social context. As Edgar hangs with his friend Luis on a rooftop overlooking the city, with sounds of traffic, sirens and crowds below, contemplative, quiet pacing and luminous cinematography offer a space for reflection. The focus is on dialogue and character, which is etched with both subtlety and authenticity.
Then, in a sequence between Edgar and his counselor, a rigid, almost mannerist sense of composition dominates, alongside a bright, blown-out approach to light and photography — as if Edgar is pinned down under a microscope in an artificial world. This suits the dialogue that emerges, particularly as it’s delivered with great absurdity by comedian and actor Roy Wood Jr. The story that Wood tells is a parable about an eagle and a chicken, and the dichotomy it offers Edgar is just as unyielding and fixed as the visuals.
There’s a third scene from Edgar’s life, utilizing a hand-held, agitated camera style and pacing, which proves the most suspenseful and shocking. All the sequences, as disparate as they seem in style, are united by an honest, charismatic lead performance by young actor Daniel Taveras, who threads each of Edgar’s snapshots with innate intelligence and rebelliousness, brings to life an ingenious script and emerges as the contested center of the film’s moral debate.
Daniel is the titular “eagle” of “Eagle,” but the film’s most impactful trick — and its subversion of film as a time-based linear artform — is to question the notion of eagles and chickens in the first place, and how our expectations and categorizations can shape perceptions of people and also reinforce destructive dichotomies.
Gifted young people from “troubled” environments are often told to transcend and “get out” — and Edgar constantly gets these messages from the people around him. But implicit in that messaging is that something is left behind and abandoned, judged as not as worthy of attention or encouragement. “Eagle” questions the notion of these categories to begin with, by ingenuously setting up and then twisting expectations. If these expectations are so easily manipulated in art, then perhaps we need to think how easily they are manipulated in life, cultural discourse and public policy.