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dir Dee Rees
scr Virgil Williams, Dee Rees
prd Carl Effenson, Sally Jo Effenson, Cassian Elwes, Charles King, Christopher Lemole, Kim Roth, Tim Zajaros
with Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke, Jason Mitchell, Rob Morgan, Mary J Blige, Jonathan Banks, Kennedy Derosin, Frankie Smith, Dylan Arnold, Lucy Faust, Kelvin Harrison Jr
release US/UK 17.Nov.17
17/US Netflix 2h14
Back from the front: Hedlund and Mitchell
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
TORONTO FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
There's an epic scope to this Deep South drama that demands attention, although the script hews perhaps too closely to the source novel for its own good. Nonstop voiceover from a variety of characters adds soul but is distracting, as is a surplus of plot detail. But even though it's set in the 1940s, the themes are still vivid, carrying a powerful kick that resonates in uncomfortable ways.
As the US enters World War II, Henry (Clarke) has just bought a farm in Mississippi. His wife Laura (Mulligan) isn't thrilled to move there from the city with their two daughters and Henry's racist father (Banks). But she finds support from Florence (Blige), wife of share-cropper Hap (Morgan), who is plodding along in the hope that he will get his own farm one day. Their son Ronsel (Mitchell) is in Europe fighting, as is Henry's suave brother Jamie (Hedlund), and when they return, their close camaraderie stirs hatred among the local bigots.
This depiction of the segregated South is earthy and realistic, revealing an endemic degradation that eats away at everyone. So there's a real sense that everything is going to boil over into something even uglier than the hideous verbal violence on display. Oddly, Rees includes a prologue clip that gives away several of the plot's twists, answering some of these questions long before they are asked. But the film's soulful atmosphere is vivid, as is the gruellingly rainsoaked landscape.
All of the central characters add their voices to the narration, offering glimpses into their thoughts. This means there isn't a focal character, a distinct perspective for the audience, or much to discover on our own. While Mulligan, Clarke, Morgan and Blige offer a sense of determination and longing, there's not much more to them than that. Banks is little more than a vicious monster. So the most engaging scenes are those shared by Hedlund and Mitchell, who find some enjoyable chemistry in their drunken days out.
In these scenes especially, the film offers plenty of telling insights, mainly in the contrast between more progressive multi-racial communities in Europe and the American South's essential continuation of slavery. None of this is particularly subtle, but it's an important point to make in the context of this story. And it's also rather frightening to see that, deep down, nothing much has changed for a lot of Americans.
|R E A D E R R E V I E W S|
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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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