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|Index||16 reviews in total|
Along with Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino, Robert Duvall brings to the
screen the best film acting of our generation. Unlike the other two, he
shape a "typical" role into something original and unique. Through
emotional shadings and nuance, Duvall has created a remarkable gallery of
Southern characters, each individualized despite having many surface
in common. Surely DeNiro and Pacino are highly skilled actors, but the
performances of each resemble one another to a fault. Duvall has made his
share of potboilers and worse, yet his most substantial roles have
performances of singular quality.
One of them is in "Convicts." The others? Don't miss "The Apostle," "Rambling Rose," "Tender Mercies," "Stars Fell on Henrietta," and "Tomorrow."
"Convicts" is very much a third act sort of film. All the dialogue and
character interaction that occurs within it comes out of the long
wind-down of a late southern day. And, by extension, the life of its
main character, Soll (Robert Duvall).
This is the first collaboration of director Peter Masterson and writer Horton Foote. Six years earlier, the worked together on "The Trip to Bountiful", a film that seems almost action-packed in comparison to this one. Masterson is not necessarily a good director. In fact, he's just barely this side of adequate. The slow pace leaves a lot of room for cinematographer Toyomichi Kurita, who infuses the film with just the right sense of fragile light & warmth.
Because this is essentially a filmed play, with little in the way of editing or directing prowess, it all comes to the acting. As far as I'm concerned there's no flaws here. Robert Duvall and James Earl Jones, two of the best American actors (both born in January 1931), create characters that are wholly real, uninterested in anything besides living. Lukas Haas, a young actor who I was familiar with from "Testament" and "Witness", plays a character very much like his other early roles. He is quiet, withdrawn, slightly scared and sad, somehow. These are qualities that seem natural from him.
Perhaps a title like "Convicts" is a disservice to this film. That title, along with the opening scene, seem to create an image of a far more high-strung western type picture. If slow-paced stage productions don't interest you terribly, you'll want to pass on this one as well. Otherwise, this might be exactly the film you wish they made more often.
Robert Duvall gives a creditable performance as the supervisor of a convict
farm in 1902 Texas who befriends a young boy (Lukas Haas). The screenplay,
written by Horton Foote, contrasts the difficulties of growing up and
growing old. Duvall's character is senile and suffering ill health. He
alienates himself from family and associates - except for a former convict
assigned to his charge, the young boy who reminds him of his youth, and a
couple who live in the village store.
It's a nice set piece, and the warm colors create a real feeling of turn-of-the-century South. While Duvall's character could have been fleshed out more, he does an excellent job as a man intent on dying on his own terms with help from his young charge
If you care for fine acting and excellent characterization, try this film. It doesn't take the commercial, slick, easy approach to the storyline about the reason for use of convict labor on Southern plantations, or about the treatment of the convicts unlucky enough to be doing time at hard labor. Filled with well-thought-out glimpses of the declining southern gentry, the economics of plantation ownership, racism, and other tough subjects, it is also a commentary on human fragility.
Robert Duvall is one of America's treasures. He should be given a Lifetime Achievement Award annually at the Academy Award ceremonies, and this film allows him to demonstrate, once again, how it's done. If you agree, by all means run, don't walk, to your nearest video store and rent "Rambling Rose", another of Duvall's gems...which, incidentally, also co-stars Lukas Haas, another underrated and terrific actor, as he shows in "Convicts". Most of Lukas' contribution is in the form of reaction to Duvall's ramblings, but the two of them, along with everyone else in the film, create a marvelous since of realism. Duvall is a mentally addled old drunk who can't remember that he said the same thing to you a few minutes ago, or what you told him, and it's to Duvall's credit that he manages to avoid being boring, as this sort of character so easily could have been. Duvall's character is also disreputable and mistreats the convict labor he has contracted for to work on his farm, but still you empathize with him. Lukas is, as always, wide-eyed (no one had larger eyes, or used them better) and innocent but not stupid. Horton Foote provided realistic dialog and a sure sense of place. This is a film not only to enjoy, but to study.
When I first saw this film on cable, it instantly became one of my
favorite movies. I'm a big fan of James Earl Jones and Robert Duvall.
The movie paints an accurate picture of the South and the racist
attitudes. Most of the attitudes came from Soll, an old plantation
owner who uses convicts for labor. Soll is what makes the move, his
funny ramblings give us insights in to the way The South was back then.
I suppose that if Soll lived today he would be diagnosed with
Alzheimer's Disease. None the less his attitudes towards a little boy
who comes to work for him and the convicts is complex. While he has
racist views, he's grown to trust some of the convicts who are all
black. The two convicts he trusts most are Jackson(Mel Winkler) and
Ben(James Earl Jones). The conversations between Ben and Soll are the
best in the movie, they have real chemistry. James Earl Jones and Mel
Winkler both but in great performances as well as Hass.
This movie should have gotten more notoriety. However it's on DVD and worth the money.
Soll (Robert Duval) is a sugar plantation owner in southern Texas,
1902. We catch up with him on the last day of his life when he is not
doing so well, having become quite senile. He repeats himself, relives
old events, asks the same questions multiple times (getting the same
answers). As might be expected, Duval creates a believable character,
but I have to admit that spending an hour and a half with Soll served
mainly to convince me of how difficult it would be to deal with such a
I wasn't there, so I don't know what things were like in southern Texas at the turn of the century, but the atmosphere created in this movie struck me as believable. I had never understood that some of the southern plantations were sugar cane plantations, so that was interesting to see portrayed. At the time of this movie the workers in the field were leased convicts, almost exclusively black. It seems that over three decades after the Civil War the only change in plantation workers was from slaves to leased convicts, who were treated as slaves. Soll did trust one black man (played by James Earl Jones) to help run the plantation. You got the feeling from this film that a certain era was slowly nearing an end from a time when people like Soll proudly wore his Confederate uniform and convicts were treated like slaves to somewhat better times (convict leasing was abolished in Texas in 1910). Soll can be seen as a symbol for a way of life that had grown old and no longer viable.
I was impressed with how Horace, a teenage white boy in the house, was so patient with Sol. The relationship between Soll and Horace was a key element in the movie--as one man was leaving the earth a young man who was more understanding and patient was taking his place. I imagine Horace's experiences on the plantation were something for him to sort through for the rest of his life, particularly the racial issues.
The movie is based on a play and much of it gives evidence to that fact.
In today's world of digital fabrication, there is no computer than can replace the actor and writer. Alas, this type of "character driven" film is far too rare these days. Duvall's performance as well as James Earl Jones are faithful to their audience's high expectations. I wonder if this movie was made for TV? It has a "close-up" personal quality to the narrative. It is an understatement to say that the performances are all Outstanding. The only thing that keeps it from being a cinema Masterpiece is the lack of a great Cinematographer, but pretty pictures are not everything. How can talent the likes of Jones and Duvall continue to produce such fine work in an age where actors pose for the digitizing?
Like many stage adaptations, this film is a collection of set pieces
without a tight overarching narrative. Not only is it adapted from the
stage, but from the middle of a three-act play, which serves to remove
some of the context; the viewer is just plopped into the middle of this
I thought the performances were good overall, but the production was somewhat lacking. Perhaps the streaming version I saw was a bad transfer, but the cinematography was nothing to write home about, the contrast was way too high in many of the daylight scenes, and the colors looked as if the film was shot on old, faded film stock.
A bit of a strange soundtrack too, but I liked it and I thought it was fitting.
I would recommend it if you like Foote, Faulkner, or Duvall.
Holy crap. This was the worst film I have seen in a long time. All the performances are fine, but there is no plot. Really! No plot! A bunch of clowns talk about this and that and that's your film. Ug... Robert Duvall's character is senile and keeps asking the same people the same qestions over and over. This earns him the same responses over and over. I am pretty sure this film got upto a six because people think they should like it. Good performances with famous and well regarded actors, but the actual complete work is a steamy turd. Well, maybe that's a bit deceptive since steam rising from a fresh pile sounds a little like something happening and in this film NOTHING HAPPENS! Sack
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