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In 1998, three white men in the small town of Jasper, Texas, chained a black man to the back of their pickup truck and dragged him to his death. This film relates that story and how it affected all of the residents of the town, both black and white. Written by
In 1998 three young White men killed James Byrd, Jr., a Black man, by chaining Byrd to the back of their pickup truck, and then driving away at high speed down a back road in rural deep East Texas. It was a horrible crime, one that was quickly and easily solved. This film tells the story of that real-life event ... sort of.
The best part of "Jasper, Texas" is the performance of Jon Voight, as sheriff Billy Rowles, who investigated the crime. The film also presents a credibly downbeat atmosphere of rural eastern Texas.
That said, I was disappointed with the screenplay. The story begins on the day after the killing and, except for occasional flashbacks, moves forward, to chronicle the aftermath of the event, from the viewpoint of the town's residents. What was a terrible personal tragedy is turned into a speech-athon on race relations from: local politicians, the FBI, a citizen's task force, the Black Panthers, a White supremacy group, and others. The film's cast is way too large, and the dialogue is inflated. And throughout this talky film, there's the usual obnoxious behavior of the vulturous news media.
We never really get to know James Byrd, Jr., ... the victim. He is almost irrelevant. Nor do we get any insight into the motivations of the three killers. The film thus mostly ignores the most relevant people, and chooses instead to tell the story of background people who talk endlessly around a sociology topic that has been talked to death. The entire film seemed academic, impersonal, and emotionally uninvolved.
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