If Beale Street Could Talk
5/5 MUST must see SEE
dir-scr Barry Jenkins
prd Megan Ellison, Dede Gardner, Barry Jenkins, Jeremy Kleiner, Sara Murphy, Adele Romanski
with KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Colman Domingo, Brian Tyree Henry, Teyonah Parris, Michael Beach, Aunjanue Ellis, Finn Wittrock, Ebony Obsidian, Dominique Thorne, Ed Skrein, Diego Luna, Dave Franco
release US 30.Nov.18, UK 8.Feb.19
18/US Annapurna 1h57
If Beale Street Could Talk
Planning the future: James and Layne

king domingo henry
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
If Beale Street Could Talk Barry Jenkins follows up Moonlight with an adaptation of the James Baldwin novel that's both deeply gorgeous and righteously furious. It's a gently romantic drama with a fiercely topical core, so while its staggeringly beautiful filmmaking tantalises our eyes and emotions, the film is also stirring something darker and deeper about the deep-seated injustice in American society.

In mid-1970s Harlem, Tish (Layne) has just told her boyfriend Fonny (James) that she's pregnant. But their joy is filtered by the glass between them, as he has been wrongfully charged with violent sexual assault. Tish's parents (King and Domingo) and sister (Parris) are supporting, as is Fonny's father (Beach), although his mother (Ellis) and sisters (Obsidian and Thorne) are too snootily pious to be happy. Meanwhile, Fonny's lawyer (Whittrock) is struggling with the case, due to the racist arresting cop (Skrein) and the fact that Fonny's alibi depends on his compromised friend Danny (Henry).

Much of the filmmaking skill from Moonlight is back, including James Laxton's inventive, ravishing cinematography; Joi McMillon and Nat Sanders' lyrical editing; and Nicholas Britell's soulful score. And Jenkins' writing and direction continually add touches of humour and wrenching emotion to each scene. These people are loving, likeable and strong, and watching them dig deep into themselves out of raw desperation is often heart-stopping. Indeed, the film is packed with scenes that leave us gasping for breath.

Each actor layers meaning into scenes without ever pushing a point. It feels almost effortless, but clearly isn't. Layne's narration hinges the timelines together, tracing the romance in elegantly interwoven flashbacks while pushing the story forcefully forward. James oozes earthy charm as a nice guy who is thrilled to have fallen for his childhood pal. Standouts in the excellent supporting cast are King as Tish's proactive, protective mother and Henry as a big-hearted man wounded by an unfair system. And Franco's cameo is terrific.

The story quietly outlines a culture ingrained with racism, making telling observations without shouting the themes too loudly, even as stills from centuries of history drive the point forcefully home. This makes the film more emotional than cerebral. It's moving to explore these things through the prism of this complex situation and these particular multi-faceted characters. Going through this ordeal with them is painful and powerful, putting us right in their shoes as we cling to every hint of hope.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 19.Oct.18 lff

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
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© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall