I am going to try to give this review of the Movie, "The Great Debaters" without giving away any major plot points in the event you have not seen it already. So this review is all about style and nothing about substance.
Generally speaking, I have never been impressed with Oprah's forays into movie production. Can anybody say Beloved ( FYI- The works of Toni Morrison should never be adapted for film! Some things were meant to be remain in their original form). So going into the movie, I was excited because I wanted this story to be told yet, filled with dread because in the past Oprah's productions can be a little heavy on message and symbolism. I don't know if it was because of the screenplay, the director, or the actors, but this movie had just enough of it all. Romance, trials, tribulations, redemption and comedy ( can you say SLAP HEARD ROUND THE WORLD?)- basically all the things you go to a the movies to see. They managed to convey the horror of what it meant to be Black in Texas during that time in history with out leaving you depressed and dejected walking out of the theater. After all, we go to the movies to escape.
I watched this movie in Southeast Texas. I think one of the interesting points in the movie was when they were trying to find Prairie View University on the map and everybody laughed because we know PV is out in the middle of nowhere and half the audience either graduated from PV or had an parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle that went to PV. I actually take a short cut through there when I am going from 290 to 45 ( don't worry about figuring it out, the locals know what I am talking about. Well the audiences familiarity with the geographic location adds extra meaning to the scene that follows. I won't give it away. Needless to say many folks in the audience have found themselves on a road to PV at one time or another.
Lets give a hand clap of praise to whoever made the casting decisions in this movie. They could have given us the same five Black actors who are in every other Black film, but they managed to pull together a group of actors that are relatively unknown. Even if we've seen them before, not in this way. It was nice to have a departure from the same ole same ole and I think it paid off because man, this was a character driven piece. I can't imagine any other actors playing any of these roles.
Now Denzel may have been heavy with his use of the soft focus effect, but the man knows how to direct actors. There was no Tyler Perry method acting excessive crying up in this movie. When a tear was shed, it meant something baby! The subtle things that the actors in this movie did were just amazing. Although Denzel Washington is the big name in this movie, he manages to make his presence known with just a look and a pause. It is when the man is totally silent – COMEDY! And let's talk abotu Forrest Whitaker... the brother speaks volumes just sitting in a chair in the dark! Put the two of them together and watch out.
There wasn't much bad about the movie, HOWEVER, Denzel darlin'. Moi luvs ya. She do she do and I KNOW you are excited to direct, but please, for the love of humanity , lay off the soft focus lens. I know it is fun and nifty to use all the various effects available to you, but several times during the movie, I wondered if I needed to go get my eyes checked, before it occurred to me that you are fascinated with making the outer edges of the frame blurry.
Now somebody needs to hunt down all of the literary references in this movie. I need to read or reread every work mentioned in this movie. Some I have read before, but it has been years and this movie reminded folks about the value of a liberal arts education. Half the time I thought professor Tolson was talking to me. Higher Education isn't just about vocational training, but also about the power of ideas to shape the mind and change the world. They almost had me convinced to go back to school at the end of the movie... I said ALMOST. Whew, now I am off to read some Greek mythology. What was the name of the character from mythology that got stronger with each defeat? I have to be spelling it wrong. Thanks erica b. the name of the character is Antaeus.
Now typically I don't like audience participation during a movie, but in this case, all of our collective participation was appropriate. Let's do a survey, how many times did the audience break out into applause? I think I counted 5. my Theater in Texas was packed with black folks of all ages. Good movie!