The world can feel massive and cruel. For many of us, especially young people of color living in the inner cities of this country, happiness and a sense of connection can feel out of reach, even at the earliest stages of our lives. In Kin, directors Jonathan and Josh Baker shine their light on Elijah – called Eli (newcomer Myles Truitt), a 12-year-old Black boy living with his world-weary adoptive father Hal (Dennis Quaid) in working-class Detroit.
For Eli, escaping the horrors of middle school often means breaking into building sites an stealing metal for cash. It's on one of these scavenger adventures that he stumbles upon a weapon -- a supernatural gun that has been inadvertently abandoned. Intrigued with the discovery, Eli hides it away, pulling it out only when he's by himself. Discovering the weapon isn’t the only major change in Eli’s life. His big brother, Jimmy (Jack Reynor) returns home after a six-year- stint in prison. In debt to a menacing and heavily tatted gangster (James Franco) that kept him safe behind bars – Jimmy makes a run for it, scooping up his unsuspecting little brother and the mysterious weapon in the midst of it.
Truitt stepped into Eli's rundown sneakers by chance. Coming off the whirlwind of BET’s The New Edition Story, where he starred as young Ronnie DeVoe, the young actor was seeking a new challenge. "[The Baker Brothers] sent me the script, and I just read over it, and I thought it would be a pretty good film," the 15-year-old explained to me a few weeks ahead of Kin’s debut. “I also watched the short film, Bag Man. It showed me the gist of what was going to go on in Kin and how I was going to play out my character. [Eli] is actually very similar to me. He keeps to himself and doesn't really talk to anybody — very independent. I met up with the directors in Boston; I did a chemistry read with them. Then I met Jack, and we did a couple of improv scenes with each other, and they worked out well. The Bakers were like, 'We want you', and my mom was jumping up and down and crying. It was my first major film, and originally it's supposed to be an indie film."
From the graffitied filled streets of Detroit to the endless highways of America’s western states, Kin is a beautifully shot sci-fi-thriller-action-adventure. As Jimmy and Eli set off on their journey, they bond in a way they had never been able to before. Just a little boy when Jimmy was sent to jail, Eli looks past his brother's idiotic, irresponsible and reckless behavior. Instead, almost without question, he dives headfirst into the role of little brother. We see him gleefully taking the wheel and spinning the car in circles in a motel parking lot and gobbling up as much junk food as his stomach can bear. And yet, like Black boyhood, this adventure has its cracks and missteps. Though Eli desperately wants to believe he is just on a fun road trip with his big brother, he has a nagging sense that something is wrong.
Truitt was not only asked to tap into his emotional intelligence for this role, he was also asked to move forward full throttle in a world that required a great deal of physicality. He had to learn how to gracefully lug around the massive contraption while doing a verity of stunts. "I did almost all my stunts," the Atlanta native revealed. "One of my favorite stunts was when I actually drove a car and did donuts. I turned the steering wheel and hit the gas. There were a lot of wires that were used, and some that I was connected to — a lot of rigs. I climbed up a two-story ladder with a ten pound gun on my back. All the lights on the weapon were these LED lights that they had raised inside of it and it even opened up if I pressed the button."
On their ride out west, the guys encounter Milly (Zoë Kravitz), a dancer trapped in seedy strip club off a highway in the middle of nowhere. Milly becomes a voice of reason for Jimmy, and a maternal figure and source of comfort for Eli. Kravitz plays her role gracefully and Milly and Eli bond immediately. Though she's immediately at ease with the boys, she quickly scopes out that there is something very off about their alleged road trip and Jimmy’s intentions when it comes to his little brother.
To make Eli and Jimmy’s relationship work on screen, Truitt and Reynor bonded when the cameras weren’t rolling. The camaraderie continued when they welcomed Kravitz into the fold. "The first week of filming me and Jack bonded very well," Truitt remembered. "Zoë didn't come into the mix until like the second month of filming, so that whole month Jack and I just chilled together and went over lines with each other. We would go over lines and act things out before we get in front of the camera. We had lunch together, and we played video games. He was really like a big brother to me, which was cool because I have two little brothers [and] two older sisters. Then, when Zoë came to the picture, she was a big sister to me. She just took me under her wing and showed me what not to do and what to do, and [she] gave me little tips and tricks on how to act different things out. We also had Thanksgiving together because we filmed during Thanksgiving. It was really cool with them."
Kravitz and Reynor weren't the only ones on hand to give this rising star a few pointers. Kin is executive produced by Michael B. Jordan. The Creed star was on hand during filming to lend some valuable advice to Truitt. "I had been talking to him, and after we wrapped I was like, 'Hey it was an honor working with you, and I'm going to be like you when I grow up,'" the Youth Ensemble of Atlanta performer explained. "[Michael] was like, 'Don't be like me, but I will set the best example. Be true to yourself and be who you want to be.' I just listen to my mentors and let them teach me and guide me. I focus and make sure I have my lines ready to go. I work well with others and make sure I commit to things --treat people the way that I would want to be treated on set. But that's not very hard for me 'cause I'm a very nice person."
Though the cinematography and the technology in the film are stunning, Truitt's work is what really gives Kin its wings. In moments where the narrative gets a bit muddled, Eli remains smart and curious -- a constant innocence and light to in a film shrouded in darkness.
With Kin, it's obvious that Truitt is just getting started. He recently wrapped up an appearance on the third season of OWN's Queen Sugar, and in the fall you can catch him on the new season of The CW’s Black Lightning. Beyond that, his dreams are only getting bigger. "Playing a superhero was on my list, and I’ve already got that," he said shyly. "Black Lightning's fans are crazy. They're die-hard fans. Hopefully, I'll get enough episodes to where I have fans on Black Lightning, and I'll go to Comic-Con. I'm looking forward to that. I also want to do comedies of some sort, like Blackish or Modern Family. I think that would be dope."
Kin debuts Aug. 31, 2018.
Aramide A. Tinubu is a film critic and entertainment writer. As a journalist, her work has been published in EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, read her blog at www.chocolategirlinthecity.com or tweet her @midnightrami.