Saturday, 5 April 2014

"American Violet" on BLU RAY – A Review Of The 2011 Tim Disney Film

Here is a link to the 'German' BLU RAY on Amazon UK (best price):

"…The Truth Will Set You Free…" - American Violet on BLU RAY

In order to get why the film "American Violet" is such a big deal (especially in the USA) - a potted history of the deeply flawed American Justice System is needed.

Cleverly used by Politicians and District Attorneys trying to look 'tough on crime' during the 1990s and into the mid 2000s - Drug Task Forces across America routinely employed military style raids with guns and helicopters to terrorize the poor. Worse - the predominantly white hit squads of the South also stood accused of selectively targeting people of colour. Huge Federal sums would then get transferred to these Counties and the more convictions they got – the more money they kept - so the 'plea bargain' system was aggressively pursued.

A 'plea bargain' means that the accused 'accepts' a guilty verdict and thereby bypasses court and a possible 15 to 20 year jail sentence. This may seem like a foolish and morally suspect move to make (to admit guilt when you’re not) - but if you’re poor or even low to middle income – the alternatives are stark. You can have your passport removed, your job taken (and never get another because of a criminal record), have your Aid To Families With Dependent Children (AFDC) stopped, food stamps cut out and Medicare supplies terminated. If you’re housed in the 'projects' (government assisted housing) where large numbers of Black and Hispanic communities live in the bigger cities – you can be made homeless. And those threats are dangled in front of you as an enticement to settle. So it’s hardly surprising to find that a staggering 95% of cases never get to trial (or are heard before a jury) because they are ‘plea bargained’ beforehand.

And if you ‘do decide’ to fight a prosecution brought against you by the Police or the FBI – you’re arrested, cuffed and jailed until a trial date is set (up to 6 months wait). If the charges (trumped up or not) are for loss of life, narcotics possession or distribution - bail can be set at five and six-figure sums because you’re seen as a flight risk. These are sums most can’t afford - and if they do borrow to meet it – you end up shackled to crippling debt for years to come. But worst of all was the infamous ‘one informant’ law that plagued so many cases in the 90’s and 00’s and opened them to outright abuse. The police needed to supply only ‘one informant’ - and if that person said you distributed drugs – then you did.

So it’s November 2000 in the town of Melody in Texas - and as the movie opens we see the George W Bush Vs. Al Gore Presidential fiasco being played out on a television set. A young black mother (Nicole Beharie as Dee Roberts) is preparing breakfast for her 4 kids before they go to school under the watchful eye of her live-in mother (Alfre Woodard as Alma Roberts). Meanwhile uptown an all-white police force is tooling up with flak jackets, rifles, undercover trucks and helicopters for a raid on the ‘project’ estate where her family lives. This raid has been organised during election time by the 'tough on crime' Southern White District Attorney of 9 years Calvin Beckett who is seeking re-election (a fantastic show by Michael O’Keefe as and odious and arrogant bigot).

On his hit list of names - now Dee Roberts suddenly finds herself arrested in her humble waitress job and thrown in jail. She naively thinks it’s for $782 worth of accumulated parking tickets. But Dee’s been charged with distributing narcotics in a School Zone and named by a 'reliable' black informant called Eddie Porter (a brilliant early part for Anthony Mackie – the angel who helps the Matt Damon character in "The Adjustment Bureau"). Bail is set an impossible $70,000 and she is appointed a Public Defender David Higgins who is a young appeaser all-too-willing to sell her life away to put the thing to rest quickly. But both Higgins and District Attorney Beckett have picked on the wrong mother…she determines to fight.

Into this legal race-maelstrom steps ACLU Attorney David Cohen (a brilliant Tim Blake Nelson of "O Brother, Where Are Thou?" fame) with his partner Byron Hill (a stunning role for Malcolm Barrett). Cohen is a white man and Hill a black American – but both are determined to out the entire corrupt system. They of course spot the case that can do it and in order to strengthen their hand - Cohen approaches a local prosecutor Sam Conroy (played perfectly by Will Patton) - an insider with knowledge of the treacherous and notorious Texas court system. But Sam Conroy is not an idiot. He is being asked by Cohen to go up against cops he lives with and the most powerful man in the State (the District Attorney) -while the outsider Cohen can simply walk away. But knowing what must be done – he agrees and along with a local preacher (Charles S Dutton as Reverend Saunders) they file against 'the man'.

But nothing is ever going to be that easy. Tapes disappear, written files are lost, Judges won’t set the trial in a fairer county to avoid prejudice and the preliminary Deposition talks are limited to only 3 hours to question the District Attorney. And Dee Roberts herself has custody battles with her volatile ex husband (Xzibit as Darrell Hughes) and his crazy live-in lady (Karimah Westbrook as Claudia). They slowly throw everything at her and the prosecutors…

As you can imagine this is a film chock full of great parts for Black and White actors of real calibre to get their teeth into. And there is no shortage of stunning verbal exchanges as the staggering unfairness of the American Justice system is ruthlessly exposed. And on it goes to an ending that quite literally changed the law for the better…

Because the American BLU RAY on Image Entertainment is REGION A LOCKED (won't play on our machines in the UK) - I bought the German variant (quite cheaply too). It's defaulted to Full Screen Aspect and the picture quality is beautiful throughout - spotless really. The Audio is in both German and English DTS-HD 2.0 and you have to choose the English Language because it’s defaulted to play its local tongue.

If I was to fault the movie it’s that Nicole Beharie is ludicrously beautiful for the lead role – the lack of big names also gives it a slight TV movie feel and the complete absence of ‘Extras” really lets the side down. But apart from that "American Violet" is a moving film that will make you think, reel and believe that even though American Democracy is flawed – brave and admirable people will somehow bring the truth to the surface – and it will stay there.

Superbly Scripted by BILL HANEY and Directed by TIM DISNEY - "American Violet" is a top movie - and well done to all involved…

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