Review: Racial drama Blood recalls a torn South

Review: Racial drama Blood recalls a torn South

Source: CapitalMarket

By: Glenn Whipp

Critic's Rating: 3/5

Saturday 20 February 2010

Movie Title

Review: Racial drama Blood recalls a torn South


Jeb Stuart, Nate Parker, AC Sanford

Star Cast

Michael Rooker, Rick Schroder, Nick Searcy, Cullen Moss

It's not surprising that Timothy Tyson's riveting, race-focused 2004 memoir Blood Done Sign My Name made it to the screen, though the man who brought it there might raise an eyebrow.

The movie marks the directorial debut of Jeb Stuart, the screenwriter of Die Hard, The Fugitive and a host of forgettable action movies. Stuart was nicknamed for a famous Confederate general, but it's clear where his sympathies and sensibilities lie in his smart and sensitive adaptation of Tyson's book.

Blood focuses on the aftermath of the 1970 murder of a young black veteran in Oxford, N.C. Initially, it centres on Timothy Tyson's father, the Rev. Vernon Tyson (Ricky Schroeder), who comes to Oxford with his wife and children intending to shake up a small town firmly entrenched in Jim Crow laws and segregation.

During his first sermon, Tyson prays to God to "teach us to love people of all races because, in the eyes of God, we're all equal." Some congregants don't share Tyson's views and, when he invites a black preacher to address the church, an open rebellion erupts among the elders.

Running parallel to Tyson's story is a thread following teacher Ben Chavis (Nate Parker, fulfilling the promise shown in Denzel Washington's The Great Debaters), a black man returning to Oxford after honing his activist instincts and abilities at college. Tyson teaches his students to challenge the status quo, believing change doesn't come to those who wait.

In most Hollywood civil rights movies, Tyson and Chavis would join forces, particularly after Henry "Dickie" Marrow (AC Sanford) is murdered by three white men in plain view of witnesses. But Blood wisely avoids butchering history to fit neatly into a conventional narrative and, as the movie progresses, the story turns into Chavis' evolution as a leader and unsung hero.

Stuart grew up in North Carolina, the son of a Presbyterian minister who faced challenges similar to those the Rev. Tyson confronts in the movie. That personal history can be felt in every frame of the film, which captures the South with a native's love and a small measure of loathing.

Subtlety, though, isn't necessarily one of Stuart's strong suits, and the film's episodic structure occasionally frays at the seams. Blood boasts many speeches?too many?as we bear witness to church sermons, civil rights appeals and, for good measure, plenty of oratory during the trial for Marrow's accused murderers. This cascade of words sometimes gets in the way of the message.

But that message still manages to be heard. Chavis, who continued his career as a noteworthy civil rights leader, argues that change can only occur when individuals accept personal responsibility. The movie's epilogue shows a happy case of that actually happening in Oxford. It's not the ending, the movie says, but it's a start.

Blood Done Sign My Name, a Paladin release, is rated PG-13 for an intense scene of violence, thematic material involving racism, and for language. Running time: 128 minutes.

Rating: Two and a half stars out of four.

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