Robert Duvall gives a highly underrated performance as Soll Gautier, a senile plantation farmer, in Peter Masterson's Convicts, which is based on a play by Horton Foote. A young Lukas Haas plays thirteen-year-old Horace Robedaux, who comes to Gautier's plantation to earn the $12.50 he needs to pay for a headstone on his father's grave. Dementia takes a heavy toll on the farmer, and his promises of payment are as worthless as his memory. Convicts is a dark film with moments of levity, and Haas matches the veteran Duvall scene for scene. Masterson does a nice job opening up the stage on this material, and draws good performances from the entire cast. This is not a movie with much name recognition, but Convicts is certainly worth a look.
With his daddy in the grave and his momma long gone, Horace needs more than pocket change. He begins working at Gautier's plantation store for 50 cents a week; a sum that goes unpaid for six months. The once fertile land is overgrown now that Gautier is losing his grip on reality, and overseers Ben (James Earl Jones), Martha (Starletta DuPois) and Jackson (Mel Winkler) do their best to keep things together. The gruff Gautier warms to Horace and promises to pay him many times over. The old man drafts new wills at random, though no one is fooled by the empty promises. The man's daughter, Asa (Carlin Glynn), wants him to get busy dying so she can take over the entire plantation.
The filmmakers with ample make-up give Duvall a deathly pale complexion and sunken eyes, and the actor looks much older than his 60 years at the time. Gautier is curmudgeonly and impatient thanks to his failing memory, and his African-American overseers have taken to ignoring his threats. Convicts paints an interesting picture of 1902 plantation life, and the title comes from the escaped prisoners who are hunted by Gautier and others on his land. Death is omnipresent here in the manhunts and in the tick-tock of Gautier's life clock. He seems a cruel man, but earns much sympathy in the moments of clarity when he recounts the good times and people in his life. Horace is a wide-eyed sounding board, and he takes in the roller coaster of emotions without judgment.
Masterson expands the action to the fields surrounding Gautier's home, but it's easy to spy the stage roots. There are several extended, one-set scenes, including a final hurrah of sorts for Gautier that is both touching and amusing. The dialogue is quite good, too, and the characters interact in believable ways. I had not seen Convicts prior to reviewing the title, and am glad to have witnessed this performance by Duvall. He and Haas steal the show, and their performances are certainly more impressive than the overall narrative.
I am glad Olive Films is releasing catalogue titles, but Convicts does not look particularly impressive in high definition. The 1.85:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image is housed on a single-layer Blu-ray disc, and there is little HD "pop" to be found. There is a fair amount of dirt and grime on the print, as well as some flicker in the image that reveals some very rough source elements. The whole presentation is washed out and soft, lacking in detail and texture. Highlights are blown out, and contrast is not great, resulting in overly bright skin tones and weak colors. Black levels are decent at times, and I didn't notice any DNR or edge enhancement.
The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is fine. Dialogue is clear and not hindered by distortion or hiss. The score is pleasing and nicely balanced, and there are some light ambient effects. No dubs or subs are included.
You get the Trailer (0:27/SD), which is nothing more than the actors' names over their pictures.
Based on the play by Horton Foote, Convictsfeatures an excellent performance by Robert Duvall as a senile plantation owner in 1902 Texas. Lukas Haas is the 13-year-old-boy who begins working for the old man in hopes of paying for his dad's gravestone. Heavy themes of death and decline are cut with humor. The Blu-ray is not technically impressive, but the film is Recommended.