Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

dir Chinonye Chukwu
scr Michael Reilly, Keith Beauchamp, Chinonye Chukwu
prd Keith Beauchamp, Barbara Broccoli, Whoopi Goldberg, Thomas Levine, Michael Reilly, Frederick Zollo
with Danielle Deadwyler, Jalyn Hall, Whoopi Goldberg, Kevin Carroll, Frankie Faison, Sean Patrick Thomas, Haley Bennett, Tosin Cole, Jayme Lawson, John Douglas Thompson, Keisha Tillis, Roger Guenveur Smith
release US 14.Oct.22,
UK 6.Jan.22
22/US Orion 2h10

goldberg sw thomas
london film fest

Is it streaming?

hall and deadwyler
Retelling the landmark true story of Emmett Till, this skilfully assembled film taps into big emotions then intricately connects in a way that adds shattering resonance. Director Chinonye Chukwu carefully reconstructs events with reverence for the story while adding inventive touches to give the film properly sharp edges. It's an unusual historical drama that manages to be both deeply moving and hugely inspirational without ever giving into sentiment.
In middle-class 1955 Chicago, war widow Mamie (Deadwyler) is nervous about sending her sparky 14-year-old son Emmett (Hall) to visit his cousins in Mississippi, warning him to be careful not to violate Jim Crow laws. But after smiley flirtation with a shop clerk (Bennett), he's kidnapped and murdered by two racist thugs. While activists want to raise national attention for the civil rights fight, Mamie just wants justice for her son. At the killers' trial, Mamie finds the dignity to face a jury of white men and a legal system heavily weighted against the truth.
Shifting from Illinois to Mississippi is startling: as the train travels south, Black passengers are required to abandon first class. And once there, young Emmett struggles to understand the situation's gravity. Chukwu directs the film with sensitivity, keeping the worst violence off-screen while acknowledging its brutality. She also doesn't shy away from the ugliness in both the attitudes and actions. Mamie takes in everything she sees and channels it into her response, which is properly devastating.

Deadwyler's performance is both steely and deeply wrenching, depicting a tenacious, intelligent woman who turns her grief into action. "The whole world has to see what happened to my son," she says, insisting on an open casket. "I want America to bear witness." Deadwyler gives Mamie a presence that's riveting, bursting with intention and a deep understanding of social issues. So the way she inspires everyone she meets (and indeed, us in the audience) is powerful. Of the ace supporting cast, Thompson is the wrenching standout as Mamie's vulnerable but courageous uncle.

Beautifully designed, shot and edited, this is a compelling, involving drama, and the implications of the true story make it more far-reaching than expected. Indeed, Till's horrific death forced the world to confront the reality of violent bigotry, starting reverberations that continue to be felt today. So even as the film depicts the vast changes that have been made over the past half-century, it also reminds us starkly that we're not there yet.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 13.Nov.22

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© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall