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Hot Docs 2019: Quiet Storm: The Ron Artest Story Review

Hindsight is 20/20

In his early twenties, Ron Artest applied for (and landed) a part-time job at Circuit City. No big deal, right? But – and this is a big but – he applied for the job after he had already signed a lucrative NBA contract with the Chicago Bulls. The Circuit City job is one of many Ron Artest stories that became the stuff of legend.

Artest is one of the NBA’s most notorious players. During his heyday, Artist was the league’s most fierce competitor and a volatile personality on and off the floor. Teammates, coaches, and opponents alike considered him an oddity; a loose cannon who couldn’t control his temper and often said weird things in front of the camera. Artest’s outbursts became prime material for the media when looking for a quick story, and TV analysts in need of an easy laugh.

Artest hit the prime of his career in the mid-2000s, a time before most celebrities were willing to discuss their mental health issues. In hindsight, his reckless behaviour signalled a man in need of help. But his talent attracted enablers who wouldn’t obstruct his self-destructive path. As a result, Artest endured a career of soaring highs, but they’re overshadowed by the crushing lows. Director Johnny Sweet’s documentary, Quiet Storm: The Ron Artest Story takes a closer look at Artest’s life and career and reshapes our understanding of one of the century’s most infamous athletes.

Artest grew up in the Queensbridge projects in Queens, New York, at the height of the ‘80s crack epidemic. Nothing came easy for Artest. He was raised in a tumultuous household where he saw his parents fight until they came to blows. And his dad took a tough love approach to his son’s basketball career, physically dominating him on the court. When Artest emerged as a New York City basketball prodigy as a teenager, he took all his emotional baggage with him.

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Though he didn’t know it at the time, much of Artest’s family suffered from mental health issues. His genetic pre-disposition to mental illness and unstable upbringing created a perfect storm of emotional triggers. Undiagnosed for much of his young life, his quick temper and desire to solve problems with his fists got him into lots of trouble.

Sweet looks back on Artest’s career through an empathetic lens. The director spends the early part of the movie focusing on how poverty, the drug epidemic, and Artest’s own mental health issues contributed to his imbalanced temperament. People wrote him off as difficult rather than getting to the root of his problems. Part of this is because he fit the profile of America’s boogeyman; a no-good kid from the projects with a quick temper and history of violence. It’s easy to thumb our noses at the millionaire athletes who can’t keep it together. Instead, Sweet looks back and shows us how society fails to create adequate support systems for people like Artest. When an athlete stands to earn his employers millions in revenue, their behaviour is enabled before it’s corrected.

Quiet Storm makes for a solid watch even if you’re not a fan of the NBA or pro sports. This doc looks top-notch. Sweet infuses his movie with a spirited hip-hop vibe that adds plenty of flair. The cinematography captures the Queensbridge projects from low angles and with drone shots in a style reminiscent of a rap video. Artest’s interview takes place in a dark room in front of a boxing ring, bathed in blood-red light. And of course, the film’s score is straight fire. It doesn’t get any better than kicking things off to the tune of Mobb Deep’s classic, Quiet Storm. If you love rap music and you don’t nod your head or tap your foot to this banger, you must be dead inside.

Staying within the world of hip-hop, Quiet Storm features interviews with a handful of Queensbridge rappers. We hear from Capone, N.O.R.E. and Havoc (of Mobb Deep). I’ve seen a lot of docs, and I’ve noticed that rappers make exceptional interview subjects. They are comfortable on camera, speak their mind, and have off-the-charts levels of charisma. They can spin a yarn as if their lives depend on it. But this doc is about basketball, and it also showcases some big names from the sports world. Besides Artest, who talks us through his life, Sweet speaks with former coaches, GMs, and teammates including Donnie Walsh, Lamar Odom, Elton Brand, and Kobe Bryant.

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At some point during the early 2000s, Artist usurped Dennis Rodman as the poster child for out of control athletes. So it’s poetic that Artest is one of the first athletes to step out of the shadows and advocate for mental health awareness. Sweet’s documentary cast’s Artest and his career under a new light.

While watching the doc and seeing Artest’s story unfold, my mind dwelled on the concept of crazy, a label often tossed Artest’s way. What does it mean to call a person crazy? It’s such a quick and easy label to throw at someone who makes us uncomfortable; does the term say more about them or us? How much leeway do we give somebody for their abhorrent behaviour if it’s fuelled by a chemical imbalance or rooted in childhood trauma?

Quiet Storm doesn’t ask you to give Artest’s behaviour a pass, but it does add shades of gray to what was once a black and white conversation.

Quiet Storm: The Ron Artest Story Screening Time:

Sun, May 5 10:30 AM Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema

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