American Violet



Mill Valley Film Festival

MILL VALLEY, Calif. -- Tim Disney's speak-truth-to-power civil rights drama, "American Violet," wears its righteous indignation and good intentions on its sleeve but its simplistic, heavy handed treatment of a complex issue gives it the weight of a contrived movie of the week melodrama. Cable TV broadcast is a possible venue for the film which has a modest chance for theatrical release.

Writer/producer Bill Haney's script, based on a true story about a poor, young African-American woman who took a stand against a racist D.A. in a Texas town, after being wrongfully brought up on drug charges, has virtually no shading. From the beginning, Haney and Disney signal who to root for and who to jeer. The latter category is filled by Beckett (Michael O'Keefe, looking appropriately smug), an unscrupulous D.A, intoxicated by his authority over a tiny fiefdom, who increases his conviction rate by targeting a mostly black housing project.

His unlikely antagonist, Dee Roberts (radiant newcomer, Nicole Beharie), a temperamental single mother of four, is swept up in a raid but refuses to accept a plea, though we don't have a clue as to why this particular woman fights back or where she gets her resolve and inner strength. However, the film does convey the terrible legacy of poverty and how difficult, even futile, it can be to try to break out.

Monroe Kelly's production design reflects the disorder and shabbiness surrounding Dee, whose unruly life is a result of impulsive choices and unfortunate circumstances. The jail where she's initially incarcerated is especially repellent.

Dee, an imperfect client with a messy custody situation, is assisted by a reluctant local lawyer, played by Will Patton, exuding quiet authority in the role, and a visiting ACLU attorney (veteran character actor, Tim Blake Nelson), who wants to use Roberts to spearhead a groundbreaking case designed to discredit Beckett.

At first, Roberts' protective mother, Alma (Alfre Woodard), another caricature, urges her daughter to plead guilty, despite her innocence. The final deposition, a climactic scene in which Beckett is unmasked as the seething racist his urbane demeanor barely conceals, is ludicrous and unearned. At the very end, we're informed that the victory was short-lived; the raids stopped but Beckett was handily reelected.

Production company: Uncommon Productions.
Cast: Nicole Beharie, Will Patton, Alfre Woodard, Michael O'Keefe, Tim Blake Nelson, Scott A. Martin, Xzibit.
\Director: Tim Disney.
Screenwriter: Bill Haney
Executive producer: Peter Newman.
Producer: Bill Haney.
Director of photography: Steve Yedlin.
Production designer: Monroe Kelly.
Music: Teddy Castellucci.
Costume designer: Caroline Eselin-Schaefer.
Editors: Nancy Richardson, Curtiss Clayton.
Rated PG-13, 103 minutes.