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Here's a second, more sober and realistic review.
This film has a very made-for-TV quality, and despite a decent cast, the acting and script is quite plain and corny..
.the music in particular is very hammy in some scenes (clearly the producers and directors thought gospel singing throughout quiet dialog scenes was required to INSTRUCT the audience how to feel - a mark of poorly executed drama). The music cues are horribly instructive and rob most of the scenes of genuine depth.
It's always a shame when a worthwhile story is told so poorly, but this reeks of misconceived earnest intentions. You feel the desperation of the creators to elicit emotion, but it's so bogged down in contrived melodrama it misfires completely and will greatly disappoint anyone looking for an insightful racial drama.
That IMDb score needs to come down a bit closer to reality..it's no Oscar material, that is most certain.
From the perspective of a Christian, I loved the gospel music so much
that I felt that the music complimented the movie even more. I am a
gospel lover and I would like to know if there is a soundtrack? I also
feel that the significance of this movie was missed by some viewers.
The church setting and God-Lovers who had no choice but to be disposed
to Satan driven sin (rape, alcohol, sex slavery, lying, fornication,
murder, racial hatred, lynchings, lust and everything else that is
wrong with this world) are all in the Bible and the story line a
(real-life movie) of what our ancestors endured during those times were
just as real as the nose on our faces. Gospel music - in my opinion- is
an expression of God's Holy Bible and how Christians should live their
lives. I cried when I saw how our ancestors were treated (like garbage)
and the gospel music made it that much reality. Please, Please, produce
more movies like this with gospel music. Back in the slavery era, God's
Church and gospel music was the only "Peace of mind" that our ancestors
had from those who were obviously "satan-deceived." Keep up the
excellent work of the truth. Please do not "sugar coat" how things
were, if the gospel music had not been added to this story line,
especially since this is how it really was, then you would be
short-changing Black History and the History of Gospel Music.
A God - Loving Black Woman who Loves her Gospel Music!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In the rush to produce the latest multi-million dollar, big-budgeted,
sfx-filled, star-laden cinematic extravaganza, many distributors are
missing the opportunity to release films of top quality that appeal to
the emotional levels of us all. Granted, film-making is a business and
the bottom line is still profits. However, there is a large audience
that is seeking a good story with a cast and crew of talented
professionals whose work is evident on the big screen.
This audience can make a film into a top-grosser, too.
"The Lena Baker Story" is a prime example of a film that appeals to the moviegoer that wants a story, a genuine masterwork that was made by a filmmaker that truly understands film and storytelling. Adapted from the book by Lela Bond Phillips, with assistance by Karan Pittman, and written for the screen by director Ralph Wilcox, the movie is riveting from beginning to end. Telling the story of the events leading up and the eventual execution of impoverished South Georgia native Lena Baker in 1945, the movie speaks to us all about such negatives as racism, abuse of women, poverty, and the imperfections of the legal system. However, the movie also touches on such positives as the strength of the church, the unbinding love of family, and the search for justice, no matter how long the latter takes.
Wilcox, himself an actor, has assembled a cast of well-known faces, as well as new ones, and they all have "come up to the plate" in their respective parts. Because of Wilcox's appreciation of the craft, there are no small parts in this film. Even the smaller roles allow each actor a chance to shine.
Kaya Camp and Jasmine Farmer are outstanding in their respective roles of young Lena and young Nettie. They are also supported by first-time actor Lamar Perkins, Jr. as young Royal. A moving portrayal of a youngster showing off his reading ability is provided by young Christopher Hayward, Jr. Natalie Richardson and Santana Shelton in the roles of the teen-aged Lena and Nettie, respectively, are superb in their limited screen time.
Along with the aforementioned performers, memorable turns are provided by supporting players Susie Spears, Frank Roberts, and Deborah Callaway Duke.
As far as the principal cast is concerned, they are as talented as talented can get. Chris Burns dons the "black hat" role of the son of the farmer Lena was forced to kill. Brown is quite effective, especially in the scene wherein he physically assaults Baker. Veteran heavy Michael Rooker brings a bit of pathos to his "good-old-boy-sheriff" role and exemplifies how law officials of the past had to enforce convictions that they knew were wrong.
Beverly Todd is captivating as Lena Baker's mother. Her part is one of quiet strength and love for her daughter and Todd tackles the role that only an actor of unlimited talent could do.
Though his part may be considered the "villain" of the piece, Peter Coyote manages to convey a bit of sympathy as the abusive and alcoholic "Mr. Arthur." Because of Wilcox's excellent screenplay, viewers see in Coyote's part the "grays" that so many have, neither good nor bad but somewhere in the middle. Coyote, a longtime veteran of movies and television, usually immerses himself in whatever role he takes and this time is no different.
He is magnificent.
Because Tichina Arnold is primarily known for her comedic roles in such television fare as "Martin" and "Everybody Hates Chris," her role as Lena Baker is riveting. Every time that she is on screen, she owns it. She has managed to create one of the most memorable characters in cinematic history, a woman that due to the conditions of her surroundings and the times in which she lived, was forced to compromise her religious teachings and upbringing, ultimately being forced into a situation that could only end tragically.
Particularly effective is her first scene with Todd as mother and daughter are reunited after Lena's first brush with the law. Arnold is equally impressive in the final confrontation between Baker and Arthur, as well as the emotionally-draining scenes of the preparation for Baker's execution.
A review of the film would not be complete without giving credit to cinematographer Michael Shawn Lewallen and composer Todd Cochran. Lewallen has given the film's South Georgia location shots the "look" of a more expensive production and several scenes show the expanse of the rural south most effectively. Cochran deftly combines traditional hymns with subtle underscoring that never overpowers a scene, providing the perfect musical accompaniment to a film of such power.
The film is headed for Cannes later this year and if there is any justice in this world, "The Lena Baker Story" should come back with a boatload of honors for the director/screenwriter, the producers, the unparalleled cast, and other contributors to this monumental cinematic achievement.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I am not sure if there is such a thing as a spoiler in a story that is of public record and a movie that is marketed by revealing it so that everyone knows going in how it ends, but in any event, I have dutifully checked the spoiler box in spite of it being redundant in this case. This story is incredibly moving. I can't say I enjoyed it because it just made me angry. Angry about what white people have done to black people. Lena Baker was an innocent victim of a racist culture. If there were a God he would have saved her and struck down every white man in that courtroom and in that town the day they convicted her. If there were a God he would never let an old alcoholic jerk abuse her for years. If there really were a God he deserves worse than Lena Baker got for being responsible for it. Peter Coyote did a good job on that part. I really hated him. Georgia is the slowest state in the union if it took them 60 years to pardon Lena Baker. I guess better late than never. When a character in the movie says, "Go with God," I could only think, "No, don't go with God. God did this to you."
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