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Overall Rating

Awesome: 12.5%
Worth A Look: 12.5%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad75%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 2 user ratings

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by Jay Seaver

"Spends a lot of time telling us its subject is interesting, but..."
2 stars

As with many movies based on true stories, "Savannah" ends with a few screens of text summing up the lives and accomplishments of its subjects, and for Ward Allen it states that he was an eloquent advocate of common-sense hunting restrictions. And while that's true enough and certainly a thread that the filmmakers give plenty of time... That's it? The filmmakers have spent the last hour and a half telling the audience how fascinating this guy is, and that's all they've got? It's a whopping anticlimax, although it does sum up the film.

It certainly seems like there might be a good movie in Allen's story; though born as the heir to a Georgia plantation and educated at Oxford, Ward Allen (Jim Caviezel) chose to spend his life as a market hunter, shooting ducks on the river to supply local markets and restaurants along with his partner Christmas Moultrie (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who had been born a slave. They occasionally exceed their quota, requiring Allen to make impassioned pleas in front of Judge Harden (Hal Holbrook), and occasionally work as river guides, though which leads to Allen winning the hand of local belle Lucy Stubbs (Jaimie Alexander) in 1918. The world is changing, though - both between then and 1924, and even more so by 1954, when a nonagenarian Christmas is living on land owned by the family of Jack Cay (Bradley Whitford), who tries to look after the man who taught him to hunt while his brother plans to develop the area.

Look at those dates, and those actors, and see if it quite adds up. Sure, Ejiofor is done up in old-age makeup in the mid-century scenes to be a believable ninety-two, and maybe it's not unreasonable to suppose that if Christmas lived that long, the man we see in the earlier segments could be in his mid-fifties to early-sixties. But Ward Allen was born in 1859, and there is no way Caviezel looks sixty-five for the bulk of his scenes. Sure, it makes Allen's courting and marrying Lucy - who, as played by Alexander, does not exactly come across as a spinster - palatable for a twenty-first century audience, but in doing so it means the whole movie feels slightly off, even if the exact years Ward and Christmas are born aren't made explicit until the end.

If director Annette Haywood-Carter and her co-writer Ken Carter are willing to fudge ages like that, one might wonder why they didn't embellish the story (taken from John Cay's book on Allen) a little more than they did. Oh, Savannah has its fair share of romance and tragedy and disagreement, but for all that Cay continually talks about fascinated by Ward Allen, the "adventure" he and Christmas keep coming back to is not much more than an unsatisfactory haircut. Ward and Christmas occasionally over-hunt, resulting in Ward quoting Shakespeare in court, so any wit is borrowed. There are moments when it looks like the Carters might sink their teeth into something meatier when Christmas points out that he, as a black man, can't afford to be as reckless as Ward, but any actual examination of white privilege - or the dynamics of these two being close friends in Georgia circa 1920 - is passed over; Christmas just eventually returns to Ward's side.

The cast doesn't embarrass themselves as these simple constructs, but they don't quite make them more. Caviezel is a tolerable Allen; he's earnest enough when saying he finds his current life more honest than the genteel existence he turned his back on and manages the gruff stubbornness that goes along with it fairly well, but he doesn't ever capture the magnetism this character supposedly has; even the courtroom scenes just seem to be him playing to rubes. Ejiofor provides good support as the sensible partner, and doesn't get tripped up playing the older version of his character. Jaimie Alexander is fun as the initially-energetic Lucy, although she has a hard time transferring that to the married period. Whitford is stuck being over-eager, but handles it fairly well. Hal Holbrook is there to be Hal Holbrook, and he can keep doing that in movies for as long as we have him (the same goes for craggy, cranky Sam Shepard as Lucy's father).

It's a pretty movie, at least - Haywood-Carter does well in showing the beauty of the river Allen loves - but it's occasionally at the expense of the storytelling, such as the opening helicopter shot that passes by the person actually sitting in the river too quickly. Similarly, she keeps things moving well enough, but some of the choices she makes in order to fit the story into a feature-length timeframe can be kind of questionable. It sometimes feels like a random selection of events rather than a sequence that leads to something.

But what's it going to lead to? There's an end for the characters, but it doesn't exactly feel like a conclusion. So there's a screen talking about duck-hunting regulations, and while I have relatives who may have strong opinions on that subject, if that's the most interesting thing the filmmakers have for the audience to take away from the movie... Well, it's an indication of just how many really interesting things happen in the time before the credits roll.

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originally posted: 08/20/13 14:43:13
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User Comments

10/07/13 Geneva Dillon Excellent Movie 5 stars
8/25/13 Mary Connor Loved it! 4 stars
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  23-Aug-2013 (PG-13)
  DVD: 24-Sep-2013



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