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Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Andrew Heckler
prd Robbie Brenner, Jin Cheng, Bill Kenwright
with Garrett Hedlund, Forest Whitaker, Andrea Riseborough, Tom Wilkinson, Usher Raymond IV, Austin Hebert, Crystal Fox, Dexter Darden, Tess Harper, Taylor Gregory, Devin Bright, Joshua Burge
release US 28.Feb.20,
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
Watch it now...
Based on a true story from the rural American South, this drama powerfully touches on economic hardship and systemic bigotry. First-time filmmaker Andrew Heckler creates an earthy, raw energy that cuts through good ol' boy stereotypes, depicting a harrowing situation in a way that's hopeful. This may feel a bit corny, but it's also timely. And the solid actors add depth to its message of love conquering hate.
In 1996 South Carolina, Mike Burden (Hedlund) and his friend Clint (Hebert) do odd jobs for Tom (Wilkinson), everything from repossessions to transforming an old theatre into a white supremacy museum. Local pastor Kennedy (Whitaker) is horrified by this, as it undermines his efforts to guide the community beyond its racist history. Meanwhile, two people nudge Mike to start thinking about his role as a klansman: single mum Judy (Riseborough) and school friend Clarence (Raymond) challenge his beliefs in unexpected ways. But when Mike finally leaves the Klan, he finds himself designated as their enemy.
Much of the film looks like a documentary, including the fiery Klan rallies led by Tom, who believes whites are God's chosen people. Mike has never questioned this, although the film makes it clear that he's having doubts, even as Tom pushes him into leadership. Today, it's shocking to hear racists gloating about lynchings and whining about being oppressed. Their attitudes and behaviour are horrific. And the story's strongest aspect is Kennedy's decision to help Mike, knowing that this will lead to trouble. But he doesn't have a choice.
Hedlund fully inhabits Mike's loose-limbed physicality and open belief in what he's always been taught. Yes, old attitudes die hard, and perhaps he's halfway there from the start. Riseborough vanishes into her role as an observant woman who knows what's right and sees a better man inside Mike. Whitaker brings the thunder as the reverend who stands up to hate, struggling to keep his protests peaceful. And Wilkinson is terrifyingly authentic as a man who oozes loathing even when he's sounding reasonable.
The racists' incendiary language is equally as violent as their actions, and it's notable that Heckler doesn't flinch from depicting either. He also never shies away from showing the power of acceptance and forgiveness, and how rejecting prejudice can bring internal strength. Indeed, this isn't a movie that tries to solve bigotry; it's about one young man's deeply personal journey from darkness into light. And while the big twists are fairly obvious, they at least make the story powerfully important.
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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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