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Gospel Hill is about haunted men, the former sheriff of the southern town dealing with past sins, and the former civil rights worker withdrawn since the martyrdom of his father thirty years before. Their final confrontation comes when a corporation descends on the town, echoing a struggle thirty years old. Written by
Simon Baker was hired for the role of Carl Herrod, but had to bow out at the last minute, due to scheduling conflicts. His name was even advertised on pre-production billboards at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007. The part went to Adam Baldwin, eventually. See more »
Samuel L. Jackson's character is called Paul Malcolm throughout the movie but the end credits list him as Peter Malcolm. See more »
Giancarlo Esposito's directorial debut is a well-intentioned, but ultimately simplistic look at racial relations
"Gospel Hill", Giancarlo Esposito's directorial debut, was presented at the 12th Green Mountain Film Festival, after a modest DVD release (which seems to be a popular way to distribute independent films that are still running the festivals circuit without getting the exposure they deserve).
Shot in 19 days with a very limited budget in South Carolina, it's a slow paced story of racial tension and redemption in a small town. Forty years ago, Paul Malcolm (an uncredited Samuel L. Jackson), a black civil rights activist, was murdered, and since then his son John (Danny Glover) has withdrawn from the community. The town's ex-sheriff (Tom Bower), abandoned the investigation on Paul's murder, creating a long term tension between blacks and whites. A golf course development, led by Dr. Palmer (Esposito himself), is about to force the residents of the black neighborhood of Gospel Hill out of their homes, which only makes the racial tension get worse.
As someone who worked with Spike Lee so many times, it's interesting how Esposito's approach to racial relations is completely different from Lee's explosive visual and moral style. Esposito takes his time to introduce the characters, tell the story, being almost contemplative, and seeks redemption for its conclusion. That's not necessarily a bad thing, actually it's refreshing. However, his characters are poorly written, the script is too simplistic, and although Danny Glover and Tom Bower (which slightly resembles Peter Boyle's character in "Monster's Ball") have good moments, the ensemble acting is underwhelming (Angela Bassett, usually a great actress, has had better times, and Esposito, a great actor himself, shows that directing yourself doesn't always work). Listening to him speak about this project leaves no doubt that he had good intentions and a passion for it. Nonetheless, I couldn't help but feeling like I was watching a run of the mill TV movie made thousands of times before. Good intentions alone don't make a good film, but at least he tried to tell a story, which is always something to be praised. Maybe in his next attempt, he will get a better result. 4.5/10.
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