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This is based upon a true story.
Ward Allen (Jim Caviezel) gives up the privileged life on a plantation in Savannah, GA to live free on the river so he can hunt ducks.
We start off in 1954 where Christmas Moultrie (Chiwetel Ejiofor) - the last of the free slaves from the Moultrie plantation - tells of his relationship with Ward Allen decades before. Then we go to 1918 and see Ward Allen.
We have an all-star cast with Hal Holbrook as Judge Harden; Sam Shepard as Mr. Stubbs who is the father of Lucy (Jaimie Alexander), who eventually marries Ward Allen; and Bradley Whitford as Jack Cay, a lawyer, who is the listener - and eventual writer of this story - to Christmas and his stories of Ward Allen.
I suppose we are all wondering what there was about Ward Allen to have a movie made of his life so-to -speak and further why would he give up a life of privilege to roam the woods and the river just to hunt and shoot ducks? We must listen and believe, as true, the stories Christmas tells about his friend. And, you must come to know that this friendship was pure gold.
However, this is quite sketchy. We have 3-stories and any one of which could have carried this movie, but it was decided to provide a little something of all three. It is difficult to incorporate everything especially when all three stories have a lot to say. We see Ward's relationship with his wife and this almost turned into a love story, but later that was abandoned; then we see his battles with new government rules and regulations regarding his disregarding them that got him to the courts many times (he didn't believe in quotas for the number of ducks killed or the shooting of a certain type of "protected" duck); then we have the relationship with Christmas and this is where the story should have been centered. It is with this angle that a great legend could have materialized. But, we get only bits and pieces here. Bummer.
It was decided to tell all three stories, sketchy as they might be, because ..well, Ward Allen was "a hell of a man's man" and we do get this perspective from the movie. Maybe that was the point of all this.
The acting all around is very good. The best and lighter moments in the movie involve Ward Allen in court with Judge Harden who has a propensity to overlook Allen's transgressions as we can clearly see that Judge Harden is most impressed with Ward Allen, who by the way was Oxford educated and spouted Shakespeare often. Throughout there are good lines that provide some chuckles.
The cinematography is outstanding regarding the Savannah River background. The ending is somewhat confusing because the movie cannot tell us what really happened to Ward Allen or his wife after his wife was sent to a rest home.
But, to answer the question why abandon the good life for a life of hunting ducks on the Savannah River in Ward Allen's words: The river belongs to us and we to it. It was the only place he felt really free and that was most important to him. (7/10)
Violence: No. Sex: Not really, we see more of a make-out session with his wife. Nudity: No. Language: No.
Greetings again from the darkness. Beginning with "Based on a True
Story", the movie takes us on a bumpy ride known as the life and times
of Ward Allen, a silver-tongued duck hunter with a free spirit like few
others. Director Annette Haywood-Carter utilizes Jack Cay Jr's "Ward
Allen: Savannah River Market Hunter" as her source material, and the
marsh lands of Savannah make for a beautiful setting.
Jim Caviezel dives into the role of Ward Allen and it's initially quite startling to see him play such a loquacious character we are so accustomed to his normally quiet and stoic nature. Caviezel seems to revel in the courtroom scenes where he recites Shakespeare and charms the judge (Hal Holbrook) and gallery. Flip a switch and the next scene will have Allen exchanging familiar glances and verbal jousts with his duck hunting buddy Christmas (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a freed slave who is the perfect companion for Allen.
Evidently the real Mr. Allen was smart and engaging, but drank too much and constantly pushed the limits of legal hunting. His loyal dog, Rock, follows him everywhere and seems to anticipate his every need. This odd life takes a turn towards normalcy as Allen falls for a beautiful socialite played by Jaime Alexander. The two hit it off and get married, against the wishes of her father played by the great Sam Shepard. Unfortunately, it's at this point that the movie gets convoluted and loses focus, trying to be too many things at once.
Caviezel and Ejiofor have a really nice screen presence together, but the interjections of home life between Caviezel and Alexander just stomp out any flow to the story telling. The attempts to make Mr. Allen a legendary, larger-than-life figure fall short because of the clunky script structure. The bookend with Christmas telling the stories to both a young and adult Jack Cay (Bradley Whitford) just beg for continued focus on the bond between kindred spirits Allen and Christmas. The enigmatic Ward Allen was clearly an interesting man and I look forward to reading Cay's book it's just disappointing that the script was not sharpened prior to filming. It should be noted that there are a few tremendous songs throughout, including two very different versions of "Wade in the Water".
Savannah does attempt to tell the story of the friendship of two men,
one returning from overseas to choose a life close to nature and his
friend from childhood a freed slave and how a changing climate,
culture, and society can make certain types of people and professions
obsolete through no fault of their own.
It has an impressive cast with Jim Caviezel as Ward Allen and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Christmas Moultrie, together with Sam Shepard, Hal Holbrook and Jack McBrayer playing less important roles. In the center of all action is the duo of Ward Allen and Christmas Moultrie played by Jim Caviezel and Chiwetel Ejiofor. This important friendship should had have more room, more dialog. The relationship of Ward Allen with Lucy Stubbs played by Jaimie Alexander is more of a fictional drop-in and distracted from the rest of the storyline which could have disclosed more of Ward's intellectual background, the relationship with his father and his overseas upbringing.
Overall, great scenery, fantastic camera work and for those who know the book a very well written family friendly script in the European style of storytelling. Not Hollywood cinema, nothing flashy or fast paced. Enjoy the LowCountry landscape and a great sound track.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Let me tell you one thing. Watching this movie will not be a waste of
your time. This movie explores the friendship between a white man and a
black man. It's a beautifully made movie with gorgeous settings,
humorous lines(at times), splendid acting and overall a great theme.
Although I do feel that the relationship between Ward and Lucy gets in
the way of the friendship between Ward and Christmas. I think they
should've focused on that friendship from A to Z because it feels as
though the movie is too crowded. Not much development or exploration
between Ward and Christmas. The relationship between Ward and Lucy on
the other hand, I find it very cliché. The good girl falls for the bad
guy. They get married, she becomes pregnant and something dramatic
happens along the way.
But overall, i enjoyed watching this movie. I'm sure you won't regret watching it. You won't be complaining and cursing about wasting your 1.5 hours.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I wanted to LOVE this film. Stunning locations, a fascinating portrait
of a way of life that has now passed, the relationship between two men
which at the time should have been impossible, wealthy blue-blood Ward
Allen and his friend and river guide, Christmas Moultrie.
The central story, of Ward and Christmas, is a thing of beauty. Somewhere inside Jim Caviezel, whose career to date has been filled with almost eerily beautiful dramatic performances, there beats the soul of a true comedian. In Ward Allen, a larger than life and somewhat intemperate man with a consuming passion for the outdoor life, Caviezel gets the chance to let out the goofier side of his personality. He plays Ward with a verve and real comedic timing, but with a sensitivity and subtlety which makes this somewhat bombastic character truly sympathetic. Chiwetel Ejifor is superb as Christmas, the man can convey a range of emotions in just one look. Their relationship is subtle, and perfect.
The flaw lies in that the script itself doesn't seem to have a real time frame or any particularly coherent idea of exactly what it is trying to say. Time expands and contracts, and a sense of unreality sets in. There are also a couple of times when the camera loses focus, clearly unintentionally. It's only for a couple of seconds, but it does have the annoying effect of pulling you out of the story.
If you focus on the performances and the glorious scenery, this is a truly wonderful film, and a unique insight into a way of life long past. The cast are sublime, and this is very well worth seeing.
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