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Overall Rating

Awesome: 38.46%
Worth A Look61.54%
Average: 0%
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Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 7 user ratings

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Redemption Road (aka Black, White and Blues)
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by Jay Seaver

"It's good to have the blues."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2010 BOSTON FILM FESTIVAL: The original name of "Redemption Road" - "Black, White and Blues" - was technically accurate, inasmuch as there's a black guy and a white guy in it, and they both wind up listening to a fair amount of the blues. The implication of that name, of course, is that race is at some point an issue, and aside from maybe one or two comments about the characters' musical preferences, this fairly entertaining road drama avoids that issue almost completely.

Jefferson Bailey (Morgan Simpson) has more or less reached the end of the line in Austin. He came out there to start a blues band, but right now, he's behind on rent, freezes up when he goes on stage, and drinks until he blacks out. Plus, he's not only borrowed some money from a local tough (Luke Perry), but he's been sleeping with his wife Jackie (Taryn Manning). Even still, he's not interested in going home when a man (Michael Clarke Duncan) shows up, saying his grandfather died six months ago and he has to collect his inheritance personally. At least, not until Jackie's husband gets wise and decides to extract his pound of flesh - then traveling back to Huntsville, Alabama with this Augy fellow starts to sound real good.

Jefferson likes the blues, while Augy goes for country, and while that's a bit amusing considering their respective skin colors, it's not long before the pair are commenting on how, though the two styles of music have different sounds, they often amount to the same thing. The movie itself plays like the blues and country - a recitation of sorrows set to a simple beat, but with a wry humor and open heart that helps to drive sorrow away. Augy and Bailey have both had troubles with the bottle and some bad luck in love, but this is far from being a movie about sad, irrevocably broken people; it's often funny, with the pair becoming good buddies fairly quickly.

Also, framing a movie around a road trip with blues at the center means that the filmmakers have a built-in safety valve against the film being boring. Running out of conversation for the two leads? Have them drop into a roadhouse with live entertainment, or find a church with a gospel choir, or meet a blind old bluesman and play music for a few minutes. You can get the music to mean something to the characters, and the filmmakers have put together a nice roster of musicians for the soundtrack. The incidental music is good, too, a real help in setting the mood.

As much as the music ties things together, the cast is strong as well. Morgan Simpson makes Jefferson a flawed but likable character; he's not afraid of looking downright unpleasant and selfish as the film opens, and while he grows into a better man as the film goes on, it's those early bits that are most impressive, with his genuine, heartfelt love of the blues offsetting but not quite countering the character's more negative attributes. Simpson co-wrote the script, so he's likely playing to his strengths, while co-star and co-producer Michael Clarke Duncan must rely on being Michael Clarke Duncan and generally making everything better. He's a fine match for the role, going from gruff to big-hearted with ease, able to make Augy a sincere and funny equal with enough substance to him to prevent relegation to sidekick well before we find out what made him turn his life around.

There's good folks in supporting roles, too, especially once they make it back to Huntsville: Kiele Sanchez, though we see her briefly throughout the movie, wins us over quickly when she gets her proper introduction as Jefferson's old girlfriend (selling a funny scene turns out to be much more effective than looking bitter). Tom Skerritt, while playing a somewhat standard mentor character, claims a major part without making a big deal of it. Luke Perry is just threatening enough to stay in the back of the audience's mind without casting too large a shadow. And Catherine McGoohan is only in one scene, but she nails it, as she must, as it's the scene that ties the whole movie together.

That said scene can tie things together is impressive; the story could easily come across as simplistic or overly melodramatic, but Simpson, co-writer George Richards, and director Mario Van Peebles keep the movie going right down the middle, setting threads up and pulling them together with ease. It's not a perfect job - the Austin section is a little vague and hurried - but Van Peebles does a good job of using both the cramped spaces of a club and the openness of the road to fine effect, and frames flashbacks in a way that emphasizes how certain formative events would have an even larger effects on a child like Jefferson was at the time.

(There may be some issues with the cinematography and lighting - Duncan absolutely disappears in some of the darkened clubs. May be intentional, may be unavoidable using available light, may be festival digital projection, which is often a notch below the systems used for first-run films.)

It's a good little movie, with good music and a nice cast; here's hoping it finds an audience. The new title fits it well enough, too, so hopefully audiences won't feel cheated when they see it's much more blues than black and white.

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originally posted: 10/02/10 12:38:13
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Boston Film Festival For more in the 2010 Boston Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/16/11 Edwin Loved. It had a cool vibe and an emotional journey. Music makes it even better.. 5 stars
11/05/10 Doug the cinematography STUNNING! one of the best if not the best film ive seen in 2010 so far! 5 stars
10/23/10 Stephanie Loved the music - hope there will be a sound track for sale 5 stars
10/15/10 Gaynel Rader a wonderful film,great photograph and music 5 stars
10/11/10 LA Woman the cinematography on this is STUNNINGLY Beautiful! BFF needs a projection test. 5 stars
10/05/10 Anne mullis Super 4 stars
10/04/10 Merideth I loved it, all the twists and turns were done well 4 stars
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