Leroy is a gifted young photographer, making startling images with a busted-up Minolta camera. He is thoughtful, not just in his art but also in his tenderness and care towards his single mom, who works long hours as a waitress and has her struggles. He's seeking to find the perfect image, as well as his own voice as an artist.
But Leroy runs into trouble when he loiters at a bookstore looking at photography books and finds himself in a juvenile detention center. During his stint, he meets another artist, who encourages him to follow his muse -- and accept some unexpected mentoring along the way. And when he faces new familial challenges, he finds both his voice and a refuge in his art in powerful new ways.
Directed by Richard Raymond from a script written by Curt Zacharias Jr., this lyrical short drama is the portrait of a young man as an artist as he learns to embrace his voice and his identity. Told with thoughtfulness and grace, it's unique in its gentle yet keenly observant portrayal of this particular artist's struggles, as a young Black man coming from an economically challenged background.
The storytelling is attuned to the ebbs and flows of its young protagonist's inner landscape, and it takes its often pensive, tender tone from Leroy's character and its naturalistic yet poetic visual approach from Leroy's developing art. The major events are quiet and often internal, as Leroy explores the world with his camera in search of images, and the film is excellent in showing how Leroy finds inspiration and growth from nearly all facets of his life, from his time in a juvenile correction center to a friendship he strikes up with an older photographer named Fern. But he's often alone, as his mom struggles with sobriety. Though she's a deeply loving presence, she's also flawed and broken, which weighs upon Leroy.
The film's tenor and pace are quiet and sensitive, intertwining the young artist's creative development with the travails of his home life without melodrama on either strand, a testament to the excellent cast. Audiences will recognize actors Katie Lowes and Joe Morton from the beloved TV drama Scandal, taking advantage of Lowes's vulnerable, sensitive presence and Morton's gravitas and authority in their portrayals of Leroy's mother and mentor, respectively. But the heart of the film is young actor Elijah M. Cooper. He occupies the role of the young artist with innate intelligence and empathy, capturing both his growth as a creative as well as the struggles of a young son who often has to take care of his parent. Eventually, that burden takes its toll -- but it also opens up his art in a raw, unvarnished direction.
Leroy's eventual direction as an artist in "A Million Eyes" is, in many ways, the apotheosis of the image he has been seeking throughout the entire film: one that finds compassion and beauty in the ordinary, vulnerable and broken and is also deeply, courageously personal. It also opens both his and his mother's eyes to a troubling truth in their family and home, doing so in a way that isn't shaming, but still bravely honest. It can seem like an empty truism, but art does transform lives here. And it also transforms its maker, giving him a voice in the world, a source of identity that's entirely his own and a strength of conviction in his perspective.