Kiki Lane Stephen James Regina King Diego Luna Brian Tyree Henry Dave Franco
Ah, yes, if Beale Street could talk, what a tale it would tell—I mean tales. Based on a novel by the highly respected James Baldwin, novelist and social activist (Notes of a Native Son), and directed by Barry Jenkins (who also wrote the screenplay), who won the Best Picture Oscar last year for Moonlight, this film is expected to be above the norm. And in my estimation it is.
The story is about an appealing, warm-hearted family forced by others’ mistakes to face the grim reality many African-American people face—that of being wrongly convicted of a crime. The main character is young, bright, unassuming Tish (Lane); the story is about the troubles she faces when her just as innocent boyfriend Fonny (James) is identified as the rapist of a Puerto Rican woman. Never mind that he has a verified alibi and lives far away from the scene of the crime, which occurred in the dark—he is identified as the perpetrator in a line-up. (Although research has long shown the unreliability of eyewitness identifications, many police departments continue to use it.
Early in the story, we see the fundamental bond that has developed between two kids from childhood, and see it blossom into a passionate romance that has more gentleness ingrained in it than in any other I’ve seen in a film. Prospects look great; Fonny will try to make it as an artist in woodworking, and Tish will work in a department store, and they will find an apartment (after some frustrations) to their liking. Then, out of the blue, we are dealing with the accusation tainted with much of the corruption in law enforcement and judicial processes that we’re all familiar with by this time.
Barry Jenkins has proven himself as a significant American filmmaker, who works with a core team [Nicholas Britell, music; James Laxton, cinematography; Joi McMillon and Nat Sanders, editing; and Cindy Tolan, costumes) to produce films that are engaging to watch and carry potent social messages. They’re framed in a way as to elicit as much empathy and understanding of the issues as possible, without alienating (if possible) skeptics.
The movie is fast-paced except when it’s properly lingering over emotional scenes, presents a clear history of the characters—including their families—and maintains an air of mystery and suspense. My one question while viewing it was why a mother, rather than a lawyer, went to Puerto Rico to find a woman. The final scene in that encounter shows a need for professional interrogation, but finances were likely a factor.
A very successful film in eliciting your interest and outrage.