By Alexander Etseyatse | Drama
A detective tries to draw a confession from a shoplifter. But he faces a moral dilemma.

A group of shoplifters orchestrates a complex series of pickups and dropoffs between multiple stores, moving bags full of clothes quickly between dressing rooms and store floors.

At one of the upscale boutiques, a loss-and-prevention officer named Maximus watches over the video monitors, recognizing one man in the group from earlier heists.

Maximus manages to stop the thief before he leaves the store and takes him to a back room, where he attempts to draw a confession from the shoplifter. But the encounter takes an unexpected turn, leading to a difficult moral dilemma.

Writer-director Alexander Etseyatse’s incisive, engaging short drama combines a propulsive plot, dynamic direction and a smart, layered script to construct a thought-provoking story that questions how overarching systems of power can warp relations and perceptions in the individuals trapped within them.

The film begins with notes of suspense, weaving together a tense, fast-moving sequence of the shoplifters at work with deft editing and handheld camerawork. But the rhythms begin to settle once the focus shifts to Maximus, who is responsible for preventing shoplifters from absconding with thousands of dollars in merchandise. Maximus is focused, professional and serious about his work, and catching one of the shoplifters is clearly important to him.

But as the two men confront one another, the film becomes both a duel of conflicting viewpoints and agendas that deepens and develops the characters of both men, particularly the shoplifter, who we learn is named Marvin. Marvin has been caught before, and the stakes are high for him: he’ll have to go to prison if he’s arrested.

Yet there’s some hope for him: both officer and shoplifter share a surprising connection, as well as a shared background and race. Actors Drew Morris as Maximus and Lucano Atitola play well off one another, as adversaries who nevertheless share a glimmer of connection and understanding. If there’s anyone that understands how the system is stacked against Marvin, it should be Maximus. And yet how that sense of solidarity plays out — or rather, how the system takes over — leaves Maximus questioning exactly where he stands morally.

“LP” could conceivably be slotted into the crime drama genre, but with its subtle yet incisive weaving of social commentary into the crux of the drama, it also is a powerful examination of what it means to be embedded into a social system of unequal justice. In a forensic portrayal of one relatively small exchange, amidst a larger backdrop of prison and mass incarceration looming in the background, we see how individuals can become dwarfed or overpowered by the larger dynamics set into motion. We can tell ourselves that we stand apart from these systems of oppression, but as we watch people get swept up into its currents to uncertain fates, we realize they may be more powerful than we could ever conceive of.

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