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Set in the early 20th century in the titular Southern port city, Savannah is a molasses-soaked drama based on a true story that must have been more interesting than the way it’s depicted onscreen. Recounting the real-life adventures of the supposedly legendary Ward Allen, who disdained his upper class upbringing and plantation heritage to forge a life as a law-defying duck hunter, Annette Haywood-Carter’s slow-paced film features a plethora of colorful characters and incidents that register with little dramatic impact. While it may attract some interest in certain Southern markets, it seems better suited for television exposure thanks to the presence of such familiar faces as Jim Caviezel, Bradley Whitford, Sam Shepard and Hal Holbrook.
The anecdotal tale, recounted in alternately humorous and melodramatic fashion, is told in the form of a story related many years later by Ward’s sidekick, former slave Christmas Moultrie (Chiwetel Ejiofor, seen at first in distractingly bad old-age make-up) to a writer who would eventually pen the book on which the film is based.
Much of the storyline concerns the iconoclastic Ward’s flouting of the laws that then apparently banned, or at least severely limited, fowl hunting, which frequently lands him in court in front of an obviously sympathetic judge (Holbrook).
Another major plot strand concerns his romantic relationship with Lucy (Jaime Alexander), a strong-willed, high-society woman who defies her father’s will to aggressively court Ward instead of marrying the wealthy fop (Jack McBrayer, of 30 Rock) who he’s picked out for her. Although awkwardly resistant at first, Ward soon succumbs to her overtures, with their marriage later threatened by his hard-drinking ways, his devotion to his hunting, and her emotional breakdown after a miscarriage.
While the beautifully shot film is well steeped in its Southern milieu and clearly reveals the filmmaker’s affection for its colorful characters, its tonal inconsistency and rarified subject matter will prove off-putting to those not particularly nostalgic about the societal mores of early 20th century Georgia. The Oxford educated Ward, who’s fond of frequently quoting Shakespeare, is hardly the compelling figure that the film seems to think he is. Another problem is that Caviezel, whose naturally recessive acting style serves him extremely well in such vehicles as the hit CBS series Person of Interest, delivers a gamely outgoing turn that nonetheless always feels forced.
The talented British actor Ejiofor fares even less well, never managing to transcend the limits of his one-dimensional character. Such reliable pros as Holbrook, Shepard and Whitford, sporting florid Southern accents, are mostly wasted in their minor roles.
Like its central character, Savannah seems displaced in time, its resolutely old-fashioned storytelling style feeling woefully out of place in the modern multiplex.
Opens Aug. 23 (Ketchup Entertainment)
Production: Unclaimed Freight Productions
Cast: Jim Caviezel, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jaime Alexander, Bradley Whitford, Sam Shepard, Tracey Walter, Jack McBrayer, Hal Holbrook
Director: Annette Haywood-Carter
Screenwriters: Annette Haywood-Carter, Kenneth F. Carter, Jr.
Producers: Annette Haywood-Carter, Randall Miller, Jody Savin
Executive producers: Jay Sedrish, Billings Cay, John Cay
Director of photography: Michael J. Ozier
Editor: John David Allen
Production designer: Craig Stearns
Costume designer: Jillian Ann Kreiner
Composer: Gil Talmi
Not rated, 110 min.
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