Reel Reviews | Rob Peace (Sundance ’24)

by Charles Kirkland, Jr.

The short and tragic life of Robert Peace comes to movie screens in the powerful adaptation by director Chiwetel Ejiofor simply called Rob Peace.

From his childhood, Rob Peace has always been highly intelligent.  Although his parents are separated, they both support and encourage his learning.  Young Rob flourishes in his mother’s academic world and his father’s street-smart, care-for-your-community world.  But when Rob’s father is convicted and imprisoned for a double murder that he swears he didn’t commit, young Rob’s life is turned upside down.  Academic success is no problem for the Yale student but he works double time, raising money for his father’s appeal and defense.  While working in the university research lab, Rob comes across a way to make even more money, illegally by refining a strain of marijuana. 

Based on Jeff Hobbs’ bestselling biography, “The Short and Tragic Life of Rob Peace”, Chiwetel Ejiofor co-wrote (with Hobbs) and directed this impactful story that stars Tulsa King’s Jay Will, Mary J. Blige, and Ejiofor.  Rob Peace is the second feature film Ejiofor has directed following 2019’s The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind.  Both of his films have been stories based on real-life events.

Smartly, Ejiofor decided to change the name of the movie from the book title to just Rob Peace.  Although the tragedy of the life of Rob Peace’s life is almost evident during the movie, the title of the book would dispel all hope for the character played so brilliantly by Jay Will.  The audience is led to root for the good-hearted, intelligent young man who seems to be placed in a predicament of unfathomable consequences.  Peace becomes successful in both of the worlds of his parents but just like his parents had to separate, Peace learns that these worlds don’t always mix.  Jay Will does a fabulous job of communicating the turmoil and anguish that comes from living a dual life.

A musical icon, Mary J. Blige is quickly becoming a force in acting.  As seen in her performance in this film joined with her work in the series Power Book II: Ghost and the movie Mudbound among others, Blige brings the same gritty reality that powers her music to her acting.  As Rob’s mother, Blige is real and unforgettable as a woman who loves and cares for her son and will do everything that she can to protect him, even from his father.

Rob Peace is a wonderfully executed and truly tragic tale about the difficulty in achieving the American dream, especially for a man of color from the wrong side of town.  Peace has to work twice as hard in two different worlds to get what some of his fellow students of color receive automatically.  The real tragedy is that in both of his worlds, Peace was an inspiration to those around him.

Grade:  A