The Education of Sonny Carson (1974)

Genres - Crime, Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Biopic [feature]  |   Release Date - Jul 17, 1974 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 104 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Josh Ralske

Michael Campus' The Education of Sonny Carson isn't as entertaining as the director's previous film, The Mack, but it has many of the same virtues. Just as Campus took to the streets of Oakland in 1972, with crimelord Frank Ward as his guide, to bring a compelling degree of authenticity to The Mack, the filmmaker used activist Sonny Carson's wealth of knowledge about street life and his access to the gangs of Brooklyn to ratchet up the level of verisimilitude in his grim biopic, The Education of Sonny Carson. The film is episodic, and has a raw, low-budget feel Campus tracks Carson (well-played by Rony Clanton) through his early criminal life. The film is virtually humorless, and the performances are uneven, with many Brooklyn gang members essentially playing fictionalized versions of themselves. Carson's rough experiences with petty crime, gang life, drugs, prison, and vicious cops may seem pro forma from a narrative standpoint, but the film treats them with such grit, and there's such a wealth of genuine anger and sadness underlying the film that it transcends these flaws. Clanton and Paul Benjamin, who plays Sonny's stern, hard-working father, do excellent work in delineating the characters' complex relationship. The film ends abruptly, just as Carson has the epiphany that leads him away from criminality and toward a life of organization and activism. It's almost as though the film's end point was dictated by budget limitations, as it closes just as Carson is beginning what should be one of the more interesting phases of his life.