Documentary and special TV presentation “Shot in the Dark” is a great display of Chicago’s power, both in front of and behind the camera. The men that promising director Dustin Nakao-Haider capture with his raw documentary filmmaking are compelling examples of people trying to either get out of their “quicksand” environment or to help others, guided by their hard-earned athletic skills most of all. And behind the camera, the film boasts the support of executive producers Chicago icon Chance the Rapper (whose “Summer Friends” provides a nice coda over the credits) and very successful athlete Dwyane Wade, whose own life story about growing up in the South Side of Chicago could inspire an incredible film. The doc will air on FOX on February 24 at 4:30pm ET, after the Villanova vs. Creighton game. But “Shot in the Dark” has deeper roots than just basketball, and it’s more than just a sports movie with real-life stakes.
Filmed over two years or so, the documentary is centered around a star player named Tyquone Greer, who is in his junior year at Chicago’s Orr Academy in the West Side of Chicago. Living in the city with his mother, he has a father figure in Coach Lou, a member of the community who has his own history with the tragedy of violence, and now looks over a roster of potential future college students in spite of his heart problems. Tyquone talks specifically about not falling into the quicksand of his neighborhood, hoping his basketball skills will get him out of an environment that is territorial with gangs and common with gun violence. He has a friend in a fellow all-star named Marquise, a senior at Orr, who was arrested for gun possession before filming started but has hopes to make a comeback when he soon gets out of prison. As “Shot in the Dark” follows these three men and their team through two seasons, the powerful ups and downs are either unbelievable, or in the case of some tragedies that befall them, all too familiar.
As a documentary by and about Chicago, “Shot in the Dark” has captivating bits of atmosphere, captured in elegiac sequences of young men and women biking, talking, hanging out in their neighborhood. It recalls the still nature of a recent film called “Dayveon,” a small and noteworthy narrative movie that’s in large part similarly about generations of black men in a tense environment. “Shot in the Dark” is able to lovingly capture vulnerable moments, like Tyquone struggling with his emotions after blaming himself for a big loss, without the camera feeling invasive. The film has numerous moments of pure brotherhood and emotional vulnerability that only a good documentary crew could get.
There’s lots of evidence of why Nakao-Haider kept rolling for about two years, following a real-life story with no guaranteed ending—the unforgettable people, the unapologetic image of a hurt city trying to heal itself, the motivational speeches that are too raw for any kind of script. And the gameplay footage is particularly electric, enlivened by scripted voiceover and with careful editing attention to show when the Spartans' basketball skills are either great or not-their-best.
But “Shot in the Dark” loses some of its impact with the question of what Nakao-Haider’s narrative intent was before he even started filming—simply documenting the major life events of two promising athletes, their coach and their team proves too broad, and the overall result is a bit formless. The doc doesn’t have enough of its own perspective, blown mostly by the winds of its sometimes surprising events. It wants to comprehensively talk about what Coach Lou calls “the game of life,” but the film does not have the focus to match such an ambition.
Still, the documentary succeeds with its dedication to the lives of the men it wants to properly share with the world, and for all of the thrilling but natural moments it captures. "Shot in the Dark" truly takes viewers on an emotional journey, one in which there’s so much to root for, on and off the court.