In 1994 the fiery, beautiful Inez (Taylor) is just out of prison, looking for a place in New York City. She re-engages with her shy six-year-old son Terry (Adetola), who’s languishing in foster care. Inez then decides to take Terry away, giving him a new identity to elude the authorities. The two move to Harlem and start a new life, which also includes Lucky (Catlett), Inez’s ex-con boyfriend. With later scenes set in 2001 and 2005 (and the older Terry played by Courtney, then Cross), we see the evolution of a struggling family and the city they call home. Will Inez’s fateful decision to escape with her son all those years ago come back to bite her?
Writer/director Rockwell’s debut feature is a gritty portrait of a defiant young woman one step away from the streets who finds a way to raise her boy in a rapidly transforming city. Nothing is easy or secure, as Catlett’s Lucky proves to be an inconstant partner, and Terry directs his anger at not knowing his real father on to Inez. Meanwhile, New York is becoming increasingly gentrified, making it even less hospitable for folks like her. A third act plot twist heightens the impact of this bracing human drama, which benefits from Rockwell’s inspired direction, Gary Gunn’s evocative soundtrack, and memorable performances, particularly from Taylor. Don’t pass this “One” by.