Critical Thinking Review: John Leguizamo’s Inspirational Directorial Debut

Critical Thinking

In this day and age as advanced as we claim to be, I can argue that children in this country still do not have an equal playing field when it comes to education. The problem is that I believe it’s not just the education system that is failing these kids but also the culture they are surrounded by. For example, growing up I had many family and friends make fun of me for being part of the school’s chess club. Sometimes your good grades could label you something that your neighborhood could see as uncool or unpopular. Struggling parental figures could also dissuade a child to pursue further education. So what chance do some of these kids have?


For decades now filmmakers have been making movies that highlight these issues in struggling communities. They often depict educators going through extraordinary measures to help a few students rise above and beyond their struggles. Films that come to mind are Stand and Deliver, Freedom Writers, Queen of Katwe, and now Critical Thinking.

Critical Thinking

This film from Vertical Entertainment features the directorial debut of one of my favorite actors in Hollywood, John Leguizamo. Based on a true story, Critical Thinking follows five LatinX and Black teenagers from rough neighborhoods in Miami. Despite all their struggles, they are able to fight their way into the National Chess Championship under the guidance of their inspirational teacher that won’t give up.

Given that this kind of story has been told multiple times, Critical Thinking feels like a familiar ride that you know will have an inspirational ending. Because of that, it’s easy to dismiss a problem I have with the film. I feel was the lack of character development. I feel that the story is so eager to get to the protagonist’s triumphant moment that it forgets to show us why we should be so invested in them in the first place. It does a decent job with two characters Cowrin C. Tuggles’ Sedrick Roundtree and Jorge Lendeborg Jr.’s Ito Paniagua. The rest of the team seem to just be along for the ride, including Jeffry Batista’s Marel Martinez. His character seemed to have a very interesting backstory that they just gloss over.

Leguizamo does a great job of portraying the teacher Mr. Martinez. What I like about his portrayal of the character is that he does a great job at setting the proper tone scene to scene. There are some moments where he is very excited and eager to prove the world wrong about his students. While others where he seems to be ready to give in to that same world because the obstacles keep coming.

For his directorial debut, this film is not bad. Despite some of the issues in developing some of the characters, it’s a great inspirational story. It’s the kind of film that can start a great conversation with your family and friends. I feel that the overall message of the film was that no matter our background or challenges we face, anything is possible. Surrounding yourself with the right people will help you reach your goals, especially if an when things get difficult.

Overall Grade: B-

Vertical Entertainment’s Critical Thinking will be available on virtual cinema, VOD, and Digital on September 4th.

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