Till – Film Review – The Austin Chronicle
A sustained moan of maternal grief wells up from deep within me Until. It’s the heartbreaking sound of a mother mourning the unspeakable death of a child. In August 1955, 14-year-old Chicago resident Emmett “Bo” Till (Hall) traveled to a small rural community in the Mississippi Delta to spend time with his cousins, accompanied by a great-uncle. who lived there (Thompson). The African-American teenager went home in a wooden coffin. Lynched, bludgeoned and shot in the head, Till’s mottled and mutilated body was found in the nearby Tallahatchie River days after he briefly flirted with a white store cashier (Bennett) and innocently whistled at her a wolf. Although the two accused white men (one of whom was the young woman’s husband) were acquitted of all charges by an all-white male jury, the brutal and racist murder helped galvanize a defense movement civil rights in the Jim Crow South and reinvigorated the mission of the NAACP. More recently, the memory of young Till’s death has become a rallying cry during the Black Lives Matter protests.
Somewhat unexpectedly, the perspective of the murdered boy’s bereaved mother, Mamie (Deadwyler), dominates Until. While many of the other actors in the story have their moments, albeit small ones – a difficult conversation between Mamie and her uncle Moses, whom she entrusted with the safety of her son, is particularly memorable – Deadwyler’s performance dominates the film. She carries the emotional weight of her role with authority, hitting all the high notes of Grandma’s radical transformation into a committed activist for racial equality. (She’s a bit reminiscent of the great Angela Bassett, only sweeter.) Movies about ordinary people’s social or political awakening (think Norma Rae) who see the big picture can inspire the soul; if wary of the easy trope of human deification, they are able to convince you that a lofty untapped purpose lives within all of us. Although it can sometimes give goosebumps, which distinguishes Until of most other well-meaning films telling similarly themed stories set during this tumultuous era of American history, there is the absence of white saviors. It was time.
While the script takes some historical liberties, like sanitizing the late Louis Till, Emmett’s father and Grandma’s first husband (the man was no saint), the biggest distraction in Until is its embellished visual sense. No doubt: it’s nice to look at, but the crisp veneer belies the ugliness of what lies beneath. Catalog-ready clothes always look like they’ve been dry-cleaned and freshly ironed; perfectly conditioned automobiles shine as if they had just been washed and waxed; and no one seems to barely sweat in the Mississippi heat, even when standing in a cotton field on a sunny August day. It’s a confusing choice in production values for a film that otherwise strives for authenticity. Go figure.
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