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Alfre Woodard as Alma Roberts embracing Nicole Beharie as her daughter Dee in "American Violet", directed by Tim Disney.  The film, based on a true
story, is currently playing in several American cities.  (Photo: Samuel Goldwyn Films)


American Violet
Violating A Tenet Of The American Dream: The Right To Be Left Alone
By Omar P.L. Moore/      SHARE
Monday, May 18, 2009

Tim Disney directs a true story that's anything but his namesake with "American Violet", the powerful and unforgettable tale of Regina Kelly, who was swept up and arrested in a Gestapo-style police raid in Hearn, Texas in November 2000.  In Mr. Disney's film Hearn has been changed to Melody for poetic-sounding effect but there's nothing poetic about Ms. Kelly's fight for justice.  Nicole Beharie shines tremendously as the fictional version of Ms. Kelly named Dee, a waitress and single mother of three who fights the criminal justice system after being offered a chance to plead guilty to a drug possession and sales offense to lower what would be a 25-year-prison sentence if found guilty at trial. 

"American Violet" employs an equally effective and well-rounded cast, with Charles S. Dutton as a local Texas preacher, Will Patton as Sam Conroy, a Texas attorney who is caught between his conscience and what's right; Tim Blake Nelson as David Cohen, an ACLU attorney representing Dee in a class action suit against the town's district attorney Charles Beckett (Michael O'Keefe) for racial discrimination and profiling; Alfre Woodard, great here as Dee's mother, and rap artist Xzibit as Dee's estranged boyfriend.  Each performer is just right for the role played, providing the kind of pitch and tone in their acting to match the more somber and serious aspects of the film and its subject matter.  Unlike "The Hurricane" (1999), "American Violet" avoids a lot of clichés and cute scenes, going straight for the jugular and not letting go.  For Mr. Disney there's no other route but a direct one, and in this way the director's film is especially strong and occasionally disturbing.  There's an early scene where the family visits Dee in jail that is unsettling and Ms. Woodard's convincing work is just part of the reason why.  Ms. Beharie is indelible in another disturbing moment during a dispute with her estranged boyfriend.  The film however allows its audience to breathe with a few light-hearted moments.

"Violet", an early candidate for best film of 2009, occurs amidst larger injustices affecting all of America, namely the protracted struggle of the 2000 presidential election and Bush-Gore recount and its outcome, and although Mr. Disney shows glimpses of this infamous affair it nonetheless effectively builds an overarching sense of something foul and wicked coming to an unsuspecting nation as a parallel to Dee's personal struggle against injustice in her small Texas town.  The film is one of the few in 2009 to skillfully weave the logistics or illogic of the American criminal justice system, a drama and a story of heroism all in one.  Mr. Disney, who has a lot on his plate here, manages to gel together an intense amount of information in condensed form while featuring bursts of humor, outrage, righteous indignation, incredulity and joy.  It is hard to imagine another film this year matching this one for its sheer power, ambition and deeply grounded outrage.

"American Violet" is an important, must-see powerhouse and it is now playing in numerous cities in the U.S. and Canada.  The film is written and produced by Bill Haney and its cinematography is by Steve Yedlin.  Edited by Nancy Richardson, Curtiss Clayton and Terilyn A. Shropshire.  The film was shot in New Orleans.

"American Violet" is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association Of America for thematic material, violence, drug references and language.  The film's duration is one hour and 43 minutes.

Related: The real life story of Regina Kelly

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