Cyclical poverty is a condition that often has people running the hamster wheel so furiously just to stay alive that they can’t get off long enough to pursue any goals or chase their dreams. In this crime drama, lifelong friends Frankie (Vivica A. Fox), Cleo (Queen Latifah), TT (Kimberly Elise), and Stoney (Jada Pinkett-Smith) only dream of a life where they have enough, where they don’t just work to live and live to work.
When the bank where Frankie works as a teller is robbed and she is found “guilty by association” because she knows one of the thieves (a resident of her poor, south central LA neighbourhood), she is immediately fired and all of her plans come to a screeching halt. When she goes to vent her frustrations, Cleo suggests that the four of them rob a bank. Frankie immediately loves the idea, but when she and Cleo fail to convince Stoney and TT, she instead agrees to work with the others in janitorial services, a going-nowhere-fast job with no benefits, horrible hours, even worse pay, and a predatory misogynist for a boss.
When Stoney’s brother falls victim to the worst possible case of mistaken identity, and TT’s toddler has a near-fatal accident and is taken away by child protective services, they finally get on board with Cleo and Frankie’s plan. With Cleo providing the muscle and Frankie, who knows the inner workings of a bank, providing the brains, these four women are poised to right so many of the wrongs in their lives.
What starts off as easy money, as the women conducting a string of robberies, becomes more complicated when their stolen wealth is stolen from them, and a renewed sense of desperation leads them to make clumsy, careless, and dangerous mistakes that lead to the unwanted attention of the LAPD.
In Set It Off, we view the reality of so many poor Black women. Stoney, who would give everything she had so that her brother could be a success. Frankie, who worked hard and played by the rules her entire life but wasn’t immune to classist and racist treatment. TT, a struggling single mother who is trying to raise a child, and earn enough money to house and feed that child, with help from now one. And Cleo, who has always poor, but wants better for herself and her partner than what she’s used to. Simultaneously entertaining and harrowing, Set It Off vividly highlights how having all of the odds stacked against a person can awaken a hunger so ravenous that it consumes even them.
I give this one 5 stars.