In the port city of Buenaventura, Columbia, a young man and his friends struggle to escape their poverty. Their weapon in this war is dance. In We Are the Heat, Harvey and his crew battle corruption, drug traffickers, and other dance crews as they try to find not just a new life, but redemption from the lives that have trapped them.
When the film opens, Harvey has just failed to make good an escape (perhaps being smuggled to the U.S.—it’s not quite clear). He seems defeated by the events of his life and not being able to provide for his wife and new baby. But his dance crew encourages him to join with them in the local qualifier for the national dance championship. The dancing is all energy and power—a reflection of the struggle that life is for these characters. The format is that two crews go against one another in an elimination bracket. For the finals, Harvey’s crew faces their rivals. But the lead of the rivals offers Harvey help getting a job and money if he takes a dive. Which he does.
His betrayal sets heavily with his crewmates. But they also are busy trying to find ways out of their own dead end lives—helping the corrupt police in a heist at the docks, or reconnecting with a girlfriend who is now with the head of the rival crew. Each one makes mistakes that could cost them dearly. Harvey begins working with a drug smuggler. But when a way is found into the nationals, they must each find their way back together for one last chance to overcome their adversity.
It is a common scenario for a story: failure, recovery, and a chance at redemption. This film seeks to reinvigorate that familiar plot by using urban dance as the vehicle. The bits of dance we see are filled with testosterone, posturing, and anger. I suspect that the film wants that to be the metaphor for struggle to get out of poverty. However, it never quite plays out as a redemptive act. The art of the dance ends up lost in the quest of power.
Redemption movies usually come up short for me because true redemption is rarely within our power alone. Raising above adversity is not what we do alone, but by the grace and help of others. That kind of grace and help happens in this film, but it is never really justified. And much of the grace is cheap grace that is not appreciated. That makes the redemption ring hollow.
Photos courtesy of Epic Pictures.