1 item from 2006
AUSTIN -- A tale of racial injustice in the pre-WWII South, Heavens Fall has a familiar feel and covers well-trod themes. We know most of the ingredients fairly well, even if we haven't heard this particular true story -- that of the Scottsboro Boys trial, in which nine black men were convicted of raping two white women, only to have a retrial ordered by the Supreme Court.
Writer-director Terry Green does a fine job and handles the story's downbeat ending particularly well. But he doesn't provide the heightened drama and star power typically used to sell such pictures, so boxoffice results likely will be more modest than the film's quality merits.
Timothy Hutton delivers a strong performance as the central character, a New York lawyer brought in to argue the defendants' case at the retrial. Resented by townspeople as both a carpetbagger from the North and as a Jew, we expect him to be on the defensive. But Hutton, while remaining human, projects impassivity toward friend and foe alike. He seems to be driven by neither crusading self-righteousness nor professional ambition, unlike most lawyers in pictures like this one.
On the other side of the case, Bill Sage plays a similar role. Early scenes hint at a slimy willingness to manipulate the truth, but the character is no one-dimensional Southern villain. The tentative professional respect the two lawyers develop is one of the film's most convincing elements.
Most of the attention in Heavens Fall is focused on white men -- the two lawyers and the judge (David Strathairn) presiding over their case. Green might have considered heeding the advice one of his characters -- a black journalist from Chicago -- gives Hutton: that he should work harder to humanize his clients for the jury. Getting to know the first man to face retrial (the script centers on this case) and some of his peers might have generated welcome heat for the story, and would certainly have been a nice change from the genre's habit of making race-conflict pictures in which the heroes are white.
The story itself raises thorny subjects outside the white/black, North/South arenas. In seeking to discredit the alleged rape victim (Leelee Sobieski), Hutton's character uses her "prior conviction of adultery" and proves that she has "consorted with Negroes." Both facts are indeed contradictory to the nature of her claim, but contemporary audiences might flinch at rooting for the idea that they prove a woman is lying about rape.
But those questions are for another movie. Heavens Fall tells its story with some interesting stylistic flourishes (a brisk montage of lawyers' closing arguments, for example) and without emotional manipulation. Performances and photography are uniformly strong, and a spare, blues-based score adds substantially to the film's feel. It presents no threat to the classics of courtroom drama, but it's more appealing than other history-based films that have flourished on television and video.
Strata Prods./Ostrow & Co.
Director-screenwriter: Terry Green
Producers: Anna Marie Crovetti, Gloria Everett
Executive producers: Page Ostrow, Norman Twain
Director of photography: Paul Sanchez
Production designer: Julieann Getman
Music: David Reynolds
Co-producers: D. Scott Lumpkin, Michael Nehs
Costumes: Lisa Davis
Editor: Gregory Ruzzin
Samuel Leibowitz: Timothy Hutton
Judge James Horton: David Strathairn
Victoria Price: Leelee Sobieski
William Lee: Anthony Mackie
Thomas Knight Jr.: Bill Sage
Thomas Knight Sr.: James Tolkan
Lyle Harris: Maury Chaykin
George Chamlee: Bill Smitrovich
No MPAA rating
Running time -- 108 minutes »
1 item from 2006
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