Directed by Bill Duke (who has worked primarily in television but dabbled in feature film productions with films such as Sister Act 2 and Hoodlum), and starring Ossie Davis (Bubba Ho Tep and Anne Rice's Feast Of Saints), Forest Whitaker (Ghost Dog and The Crying Game), and Jonathon Silverman (probably best know for Weekend At Bernie's), this movie, which was originally made for the Showtime cable network, looked pretty interesting. And in fact, it was.
The film follows the story of a group of black men who get tired of being pushed around by the local Ku Klux Klan and take up arms against them in their small town of Bogalusa, Louisiana. The story is set in the summer of 1964 just as civil rights issues were hitting the forefront of the American political scene.
As the black men realize more and more that they're being treated unjustly at work and around the town, they become tired of dealing with it and decide to stand up against their oppressors (whose henchmen tell them things like 'Fear the Night' as they walk past them at work after an incident).
Silverman plays a civil rights lawyer named Michael Deane who tries his best to get the irate citizens to play it by the book and work with the system to fix the problem, not to take the law into their own hands, but Marcus Clay (Whitaker) and Rev. Gregory (Davis) have a different plan in mind and once the local law enforcement officials start giving Deane a hard time and he ends up locked up, it looks like they might just have the right idea.
Together, Clay starts up an organization called The Deacons of Defense And Justice, intent on making things change regardless of how hard they have to fight for it, and Gregory does his best as the local preacher to stop the inevitable violence that is bound to happen as a result.
Usually when you hear the words 'made for TV movie' you conjure up images of, well, crap, right? Well, maybe you don't, but I do. Made for TV movies have a bad habit of sucking and sucking hard at that. Truth be told I only really wanted to see this movie based on the presence of Ossie Davis alone. He blew me away in Bubba Ho Tep when I saw it last year and in everything I've seen him in I've found him extremely likable. So imagine my surprise when I hunkered down to watch the film and found myself engrossed in it not just because of Davis' typically excellent performance but also by Whitaker and even Silverman as well. In fact, most of the supporting cast is quite good as well, particularly those who play the Klansmen.
Because this was made for a cable network and not network TV, the violence level is considerably higher than what you'd expect to see on the NBC Movie Of The Week or something like that. When these guys are hit, they bleed and when they're upset, they swear. So you've got the 'reality quotient' in check at least. Throw in the fact that the story focuses on an interesting and seldom told story of America's past and it makes for quite a decent night's watch.
The movie is shown fullframe, which isn't surprising considering its made for cable TV origins. The black and white scenes look a little fuzzy and I'm not sure if this was intentional or not but it didn't look right. The colors scenes fair considerably better though and although the film looks to be intentionally using a rather muted color pallet, the image is consistently clear and stable with only a slight hint of mpeg compression creeping up in a couple of scenes.
Three audio tracks can be found in the Special Features section of the DVD. There is an English 2.0 track, an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track, and a Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 track. The 5.1 track is a bit unusual in that my receiver showed it as 5.1 but all three of my players displayed it as simply another 2.0 mix. It sure sounded like 5.1 in a few scenes though, as there was quite a bit of activity from the rear channels, particularly noticeable during the more action oriented scenes. Dialogue was clean and clear and easy to follow and levels seemed well balanced in the mix without and hiss or distortion cropping up to distract you from the film.
Forest Whitaker and Jonathon Silverman are both interviewed on set and give their thoughts on the historical context of the film, as well as some background information on the real life events that inspired this movie. They're not particularly groundbreaking or anything and aren't going to make or break the disc for you but they're reasonably informative. There are also filmographies supplied in text format for the two actors as well. Finally, Showtime has supplied trailers for The Outsider, Echo Of Murder, The Wall, The Inspectors, and Rated X.
For those interested in 'forgotten' areas of American history, Deacons For Defense is recommended. Performances are strong across the board, the movie is stylishly directed and follows a sensible and interesting script. As far as made for TV movies go, this one is top notch and is well worth a look.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.