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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Rosewood

Starring: Ving Rhames, Jon Voight
Director: John Singleton
Rated: R
RunTime: 135 Minutes
Release Date: February 1997
Genres: Action, Drama

*Also starring: Don Cheadle, Bruce McGill, Loren Dean, Esther Rolle, Elise Neal, Catherine Kellner, Michael Rooker

Review by Andrew Hicks
3 stars out of 4

ROSEWOOD is the kind of movie that makes me ashamed to be white. That might be too strong a statement, but a movie like this does remind me that, yes, we honkies have traditionally done a lot of wrong to minority races. ROSEWOOD is based on the true story of the massacre of scores of blacks in a Florida town in 1922, told by director John Singleton in the same guilt-inducing but fair way that made his last film, HIGHER LEARNING, so powerful.

At 142 minutes, ROSEWOOD seems to be Singleton's MALCOLM X, a detailed, large budget period piece that documents an important (and, in this case, embarrassing) part of black history with clear cut characters, real emotion and a lack of sermonizing. It's a hard movie to film and market because this kind of movie is uncomfortable for both black and white viewers, but in two characters, on both sides of the racial spectrum, Singleton provides appeal.

On the white side, there's John Wright (Jon Voight), a Rosewood store owner. He's one of the few white residents in the black-owned town but gets along with everyone, kind of like Sal in DO THE RIGHT THING. Wright is the only white man who tries to stop the lynch mob's attacks on the black residents once the episode begins. It starts with a rich white woman claiming she was beaten by a black man to cover up her affair with violent Robert "T-1000" Patrick. This is just what the white folks want to hear; they booze up, grab their shotguns and mobilize to dispense justice, which seems like an inhuman game more than anything else.

On the black side, we have Mr. Mann (Ving Rhames), the stranger-comes-to-town archetype. He's a drifter and WWI veteran who wanders into town the day before the fun begins and is embraced by the townfolk. ROSEWOOD is based on life, but Mann isn't. His character is to serve as the superhuman leader of his people and, although it diminishes the power of the "true" images, it makes the movie more audience-friendly to have someone to root for. I can only imagine how many audiences burst into spontaneous applause at the end of his hanging scene.

The other black characters seem more human than Mann. There's Sylvester (Don Cheadle), the piano instructor who refuses to leave town when the white sheriff (Michael Rooker) warns him of the approaching redneck mob, and instead stays to fight. His mom is played by Esther Rolle of "Good Times," although her times in ROSEWOOD seem anything but. As the maid of the white woman who starts the mess, she knows it was Patrick who beat her, but also knows she will be lynched if she says anything.

The cast does a good job -- it's one thing to play a sympathetic character, but it takes a lot more work to portray a truly ignorant, racist character everyone will hate. I have to hand it to the bearded guy in the lynch mob because, by the end of the movie, I really hated him. If I see him on the street, I will beat him. _That's_ good acting.

And, as always, Ving Rhames is the man. Entertainment Weekly's review of ROSEWOOD was negative because of Rhames, saying his character goes against the riviting drama of the narrative by providing an unrealistic action hero. That's probably right, but I've never thought anything but "Ving's the man" when I've seen him in a movie. I think he adds a lot to the movie, but what I could have done without are the last two or three scenes, which add sentimental anti- climax after everything is said and done. If there's anything ROSEWOOD doesn't need, it's anti-climax.

Copyright 1997 Andrew Hicks

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