Director Darrell Roodt’s by-the-numbers biopic suffers from clunky dialogue and shallow characterization, all while never deciding what to make of its leading lady.
That's the question I answered, along with several other contributors, in the New York Times "Room for Debate" forum earlier this week.
When we go to the movies to see a narrative that is “based on a true story,” certain expectations are set up. Audience members instinctively wonder how much of the film is true. Typically, only a small fraction of those viewers will be curious enough to seek out the real details afterward. The rest will likely take the story at face value, unaware of what sprung from the imagination of the filmmakers.
Pitchfork has just launched a new site dedicated to movies, with many former editors of The A.V. Club at the helm. The Dissolve looks great, and I'm honored to be a part of that launch--I'll be contributing occasional reviews to the site, and my first one for the sci-fi thriller* Europa Report*, appeared yesterday with the launch. I'll continue to post my reviews here from now on.
In the meantime, check out the website!
There is no denying Sidney Poitier's place in American film history, and his talent as an actor should never be discounted--he simply came to prominence in a time of extremely stilted Hollywood conventions. But even he will admit that many of the roles he had to play were little more than a painfully constructed attempt to "deal" with race without really getting to the bottom of it. He was, unfortunately, all too often forced into the thankless role of saintly Negro, putting whites' well-beings before his own, and never truly being rewarded for it, except to be stripped down to a one-dimensional, mild-mannered character. Raymond is just that, and feels less like a fully-fleshed human being and more like a character created by Haynes to serve as a prop used for conveying "important" messages about forbidden attraction and prejudice.
The film looks as beautiful as a Sirk piece, but it also comes across as stodgy and superficial as the Old Hollywood "message" films of the '50s and '60s. We can give such films as A Patch of Blue or Lilies of the Field a pass because they are a product of a time when "For Whites Only" was an acceptable law in some places and interracial dating was all but an oxymoron. Now there is no excuse, no reason why such a story should continue to be told without reaching below the surface, and seeing how such things can affect the minorities involved. It's a shame, but not a surprise, that in a medium that likes to "update" itself frequently with new versions of old formulas, the most potentially contentious themes are usually stuck in the past.