Cinema: A Poet in the Pokey

Slam, lauded at Sundance and Cannes, tells the gritty story of a man torn between vice and verse

A film about a dope-dealing poet from the soul-squashing projects of Washington was a winner on the chic slopes and shores of this year's festivals. The poet-pusher is Ray Joshua, played by a scrawny charismatic named Saul Williams; and the film, Slam, arrives in theaters laden with laurels from Sundance and Cannes. Burdened, really, for this is a small movie, as vulnerable as it is volatile, about young black men in trouble. Its underworldly corrosiveness can't hide a heart full of hope.

In director Marc Levin's bifocal vision, Ray is a thug and a saint: he sells weed to the locals...

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