dir-scr John Sayles
with Danny Glover, Charles S Dutton, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Stacey Keach, Gary Clark Jr, Yaya DaCosta, Mary Steenburgen, Vondie Curtis Hall, Davenia McFadden, Sean Patrick Harris, Daryl Edwards, Dr Mable John
release US 28.Dec.07, UK 9.May.08
07/US 2h03
Good rockin' tonight: Clark

glover dutton steenburgen
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Honeydripper Sayles weaves another of his rich cultural concoctions here, dipping into the Southern roots of rock-n-roll to examine a place and time that oozes with energy, soul and injustice.

In 1950 Alabama, Tyrone (Glover) is struggling to keep his Honeydripper juke joint open. He sacks his gifted singer (John) because her bluesy music isn't bringing the crowds anymore. And the local sheriff (Keach) is turning nasty. His hopes are pinned to a major Saturday night gig, but he's risking everything from his religious wife (Hamilton) to his lease on the club. His sidekick (Dutton) is there to help, as is his step-daughter (DaCosta) and a stranger named Sonny (Clark) who appears with a home-made electric guitar.

This is a story about the birth of a new musical genre, and Sayles pieces together the events while vividly painting a picture of a specific moment in history. Each scene is soaked in the raw realities: Jim Crow laws mandating segregation, unjust working conditions in the cotton fields, culture that's shifting from the bottom up. It's not surprising that these elements, and others, resulted in such an unjust system. And also in a musical style that defied the status quo.

Sayles assembles this with a remarkably clear eye. There's not a moment of self-pity among these characters; they just get on with their lives even though they are at the wrong end of every kind of discrimination. The film's tone is soulful, sassy and fully alive, with characters who bristle with impatience about changes they want (and need) to see. Each person has his or her own vivid journey, and Sayles orchestrates his fine cast effortlessly.

This isn't the kind of flashy Big Issue movie that makes people stand up and take notice. It's quiet and moody, with outbursts of strong emotion and energy, especially in the musical sequences, which were performed live on set with no lipsynching. As the plot builds to the fateful Saturday night, the tension is almost overpowering--for Tyrone and his personal desperation, for Sonny's big test of his ground-breaking style, and for America at a turning point in its history. Pretty strong stuff for a gentle, meandering movie like this.

cert pg themes, language, innuendo 21.Jan.08

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© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall