What We Do Next is small in scale but tackles wide-ranging issues such as familial trauma, social justice, and moral responsibility. The tense drama focuses on a young woman released from prison after 16 years for using funds donated by community activists to purchase a gun and kill her father. Writer/director Stephen Belber confronts the difficult question of who was responsible for the young girl and if it was wrong to provide her a pathway to crime.
Belber’s film uses an intimate theatrical structure to craft a strained atmosphere. Each scene only includes two or three actors often shot in tight close-ups, occurs in an enclosed space, and takes place in real-time. This filmmaking style amplifies the pressure the characters feel and the impact of the actors’ heated performances.
A pensive and determined Corey Stoll plays a liberal lawyer now doing corporate work who agrees to take the fall for loaning Elsa the money. Karen Pittman is powerful as the conflicted Sandy, an intelligent and ambitious politician who truly wants to help others but unwittingly aided a murder. Michelle Veintmilla deftly captures the pain and trauma that lies beneath Elsa’s blinding rage and manipulation. Elsa has a short fuse that frequently sets off and burns everything in its path. At times Ventmilla’s crackling energy is over the top, but it shows how Elsa is desperately clawing her into an acceptable future.
Despite its title, What We Do Next doesn’t offer any pat answers. Instead, the film challenges the audience to consider the harmful ramifications of political idealism. What We Do Next teaches us that solving the problems of inner-city youth is easier said than done, and there are no tangible solutions for an entire systemic issue. The film approaches such ideas with a thoughtful intensity.