Sunday, November 01, 2009

American Violet: Grade C

American Violet (2008)
Nicole Beharie, Alfre Woodard, Will Patton; Director Tim Disney.

A young African-American single mother (Beharie) with four kids is wrongfully arrested on drug charges in a small town in Texas. The police “drug task force” had her name on a list of pushers provided by a mentally incompetent informant under duress. She is offered 6 years as a plea bargain, against 25 years if adjudicated guilty. The local DA is the stereotypical racist “lock ‘em up” bastard. The ACLU intervenes and persuades the mother to sue the DA for racism, an almost impossible charge to prove.

Based on a true story, the movie highlights many legal problems, not just in Texas but all over the country: racial profiling, disproportionate numbers of blacks in prison, use of dubious police informants, the problems inherent in the plea bargaining system, and of course, racist DA’s. These are all important issues, so the movie gets points for didacticism. Acting is strong, particularly by newcomer Beharie and by a sensitively played ACLU local counsel, Patton. Directing is undistinguished, cinematography is television cliché, and so is the writing. The pace is far too slow to sustain what little legal tension there is in the script. It will do fine on TV.

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