Explicit Ills (2018): Actor Mark Webber’s Directing Debut, Starring Rosario Dawson and Paul Dano

Actor Mark Webber makes a decent feature directorial debut in “Explicit Ills,” an ensemble-driven tale set in the lower-depths of Philadelphia. The small-budget indie premiered at the 2008 SXSW Film Fest, where it won the Cinematography and Audience Award, and later played at CineVegas Fest.

Like its title, the film may be too conceptual for its own good, failing to provide meaningful links among its characters the way that other directors of collective urban drams, say Robert Altman or Paul Thomas Anderson, have done so carefully.

Webber is good but impressively not indulgent with his actors, unlike other actors-turn-directors, and ultimately, it’s some of the individual characterizations and the high caliber of acting, by pros such as Rosario Dawson and Paul Dano, that helps the picture.  

The narrative and execution are uneven, and not all the subplots and persona are of equal (or any) interest.  A would-be artist named Michelle (Frankie Shaw) paints a portrait of the main characters, an aggregate of young and old, black and white, male and female. 

They include a struggling young actor named Rocco (Paul Dano).  Heslin (Ross Kim-McManus) pumps iron, while his father Kaleef (Tariq Trotter) tries to open a store for health products. Babo (Francisco Burgos) is an asthmatic boy raised by his single Latina mother (Rosario Dawson), who has hard time surviving and keeping the family together.

The goal of conveying how people live in poverty in the inner city is unmistakably honorable and politically heartfelt, and so is the depiction of urban desperation, loneliness and alienation, experienced by the underclass in a sharply polarized, highly bureaucratic and indifferent society.  In this respect, the story could have taken place in any large metropolitan center.

Interweaving seemingly disconnected private moments of its culturally and economically disparate characters, “Explicit Ills” builds toward a collective action that is not entirely earned, a community march for economic change. As a cautionary tale and call to arms, the films gets messagy, displaying a blatant ideology that almost negates the impact of the more emotionally heartfelt parts of the film.

As a semi-autobiographical account of coming of age in Philadelphia, with its unique sights and sounds, the movie is also only partially satisfying, because ultimately the text is too contrived and vignette-driven.



A Mangusta/Riker Hill/Film 101/AM/FM Films production.

Produced by Sol Tryon, Liz Destro, Mark Webber.

Executive producers, Jim Jarmusch, Gary Adelman, J. Andrew Greenblatt, Nick Kalicow, Michael Morrison, Michael Wolk.

Co-producer, Seth Scher.

Directed, written by Mark Webber.

Camera, Patrice Cochet.

Editor, Jay Rabinowitz.

Music, Khari Mateen; music supervisor, Brian Sapp.

Production designer, Michael Grasley; art director, Michael Hersey.

Costume designer, Nikia Nelson.

Supervising sound editor, Cory Meloious; re-recording mixer, Tony Volante; Associate producers, Jennifer Delia, Michael Maizner.


Running time: 88 Minutes.




Rosario Dawson, Paul Dano, Lou Taylor Pucci, Tariq Trotter, Naomie Harris, Frankie Shaw, Francisco Burgos, Martin Cepeda Jr., Destini Edwards, Ross Kim-McManus, Rebecca Comerford.