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Cry the Beloved Country

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Cry the Beloved Country

Starring: James Earl Jones, Richard Harris
Director: Darrell James Roodt
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 106 Minutes
Release Date: December 1995
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Vusi Kunene, Leleti Khumalo, Charles S. Dutton, Eric Miyeni, Dambisa Kente, Ian Roberts

Review by Steve Rhodes
3½ stars out of 4

CRY THE BELOVED COUNTRY is set in Natal, South Africa in 1946. It is a remake of the 1952 movie of the same name by Zoltan Korda. This movie features James Earl Jones as an Anglican priest by the name of Stephen Kumalo, and it is clearly the best performance of Jones's long career of over eighty movies.

CRY THE BELOVED COUNTRY starts with sweeping vistas of great beauty filmed in luscious color thanks to the cinematography by Paul Gilpin. Although I have never been to South Africa, the terrain reminded me of the Scottish Highlands where I have visited. The beauty of South Africa resonates perfectly with the richness of Jones's voice in the narration. The sets (David Barkham) with the contrast of the claustrophobia of the big city and the poverty of the ghettos are extremely effective.

The movie tells the story of a black priest, Father Kumalo, who is forced to leave his poor country church and travel into the big city of Johannesburg. He goes to find his sister Gertrude (Dembisa Kente), his son Absolom (Eric Miyeni), and his brother John (Charles Dutton), but he departs with great trepidation. He tells his wife Katie (Leleti Kumalo), "This is a journey I have always feared. My people go there never to return." When he gets there he is robbed and the place seems to be as bad as he feared. There is a great scene of him lost in the vastness of the big city.

When he finds his brother, he turns out to be a politician with impressive oratorical skills who is too busy to be bothered with his relatives from the country. Just as there is the clash between black and white in South Africa, there is also the mutual misunderstanding between the people living in the city and those in the country. The movie spends more time than most movies dealing with spirituality in general and the true meaning of Christianity in particular. It is refreshing to see a movie where people of the cloth are taken seriously for a change. One priest explains another's actions by saying, "He has truth on his side" to which Father Kumalo answers, "How can he have truth without God?"

The city is shown as a place of great sorrow. In one of the most horrific scenes Father Kumalo learns that his son has killed the son of the rich white landowner James Jarvis (Richard Harris). The movie is about the search for Absolom and then his trial.

The marvelous script by Ronald Harwood and direction by Darrell Roodt weave a tale of great power and sadness but do it in an understated fashion that never manipulates the audience's emotions. Nevertheless, there was many a tear shed in the theater I was at, and I could hear frequent sobbing. Moreover, every single person stayed until all of the credits finished and the house lights went up because they were so mesmerized by the show. The ending is perfect, and I think hopeful.

Ah, the acting. Everyone in the movie was quite good, but Jones was head and shoulders above everyone else. He cried in the show, he was scared in the show, and yet he was brave. A more moving and powerful performance I have not seen in a long time. If he does not get an Academy Award nomination for it, they ought to disband the Academy as hopeless lost.

The music by John Barry is extremely moving without ever being overpowering. I love the costumes (Rui Filipe) especially the large brimmed hats that the priests wear.

CRY THE BELOVED COUNTRY runs a fast 1:49 thanks to crisp editing (David Heitner). The movie is rated PG-13 for a little violence, but there is no sex, nudity or bad language. I would have no trouble taking kids 10 and over. This is a subtle but wonderful film that I recommend to you strongly, and I give it *** 1/2.

Copyright 1995 Steve Rhodes

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