Tag Archives: Thomas Haden Chruch

The Price of Justice

The 24th

by George Wolf

Take at look at some recent writing credits for Kevin Willmott: Da 5 Bloods, Black KkKlansman (which won him a deserved Oscar), Chi-Raq. Impressive. Go back to 2004, and you’ll find The Confederate States of America, which he also directed.

Without question, Willmott speaks eloquently and provocatively on the history of being Black in America. He’s back behind the camera for The 24th, a bold and clear-eyed take on the 1917 mutiny of the all-Black 24th U.S. Army infantry regiment after harassment from the Houston police department.

Willmott, co-writing with first time screenwriter Trai Byers, again shows an uncanny instinct for making history crackle with the urgency of a breaking news bulletin. Humanizing the conflict through the fictional Pvt. William Boston (Byers, also taking lead acting duties), the film builds from a slightly impatient first act into a final third full of resonant rage and tremendous emotional power.

Pvt. Boston’s education abroad and dignified air draw the ire of both his fellow soldiers and his white commanding officers, save for the thoughtful Col. Norton (Thomas Haden Church, playing impressively against type). Both Boston and Norton want the 24th to be the first Black regiment sent to the Normandy front lines, and the Col. recommends Boston for officer training.

Aspiring to lead by the example of valuing service over ambition, Boston resists the promotion, laying down the first marker in a character arc of weighty heartbreak, resignation and sacrifice.

The Jim Crow laws of Texas stop at nothing to oppress and brutalize the members of the 24th, even the private MP unit formed expressly to protect them.

As Boston prepares to give his local sweetheart (Aja Naomi King) a promise ring, the night of August 23rd, 1917 cascades into violence, leaving policemen, civilians and soldiers dead in the Houston streets.

The aftermath leaves Boston with a soul shaking choice, one made easier by an awakened and defiant resolve.

He still aspires to be an inspiration, but for a completely different reason. And it is this journey – made so deeply intimate by Byers and a superb Mykelti Williamson as Boston’s frequent adversary Sgt. Hayes – that carries the film’s early 1900s setting into the streets of today’s Black Lives Matter protests.

Making that leap with us, and not for us, is no easy trick, but The 24th is more proof of risk and reward. The ugliest corners of the mirror can be valuable teachers, and we need Willmott’s voice – as both a writer and a filmmaker – to keep us looking.

River of Dreams

The Peanut Butter Falcon

by George Wolf

Zack Gottsagen wanted to be a movie star.

Filmmakers Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz told Zack there just weren’t many roles available for actors with Down Syndrome.

He asked if they could write him one.

The result is The Peanut Butter Falcon, an irresistibly endearing adventure powered by an unwavering sincerity and a top flight ensemble that is completely committed to propping it up.

Zak (a terrific Gottsagen), getting an assist from his elderly roommate (Bruce Dern), makes a successful break from his nursing home quarters with a mission in mind: finding the wrestling school run by his idol, the Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church).

Tyler (Shia LeBeouf) is also running – from a big debt to a small time tough guy (John Hawkes) – and when Zak stows away on Tyler’s rickety boat, the two embrace life on the lam as Zak’s case worker Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) slowly closes in.

The quest carries obvious parallels to the real Zack’s Hollywood ambitions, and the Nilson/Schwartz directing team lovingly frames it as a swamp-ridden fable full of Mark Twain homages.

You get the sense early on that this is the type of material that would crumble if any actor betrayed authenticity for even a moment. It also isn’t long before you’re confident that isn’t going to happen here.

LeBeouf is tremendous as the wayward rogue whose inner pain is soothed by his bond with the stubbornly optimistic Zak. The chemistry is unmistakable, and ultimately strong enough to welcome the arrival of Johnson, who gives her Eleanor layers enough to embody our fears of the “real world” puncturing this fairy tale.

The surrounding ensemble (including Jon Bernthal and real-life wrestling vets Mick Foley and Jake “the Snake” Roberts) and rootsy soundtrack color in the last spaces of a world wrestling with convention.

Sure, you’ll find glimpses of feel good cliches. What you won’t find is condescension, or the feeling that anything here – from the characters or the filmmakers alike – is an act of charity.

Often similar to last year’s Shoplifters, The Peanut Butter Falcon is all about embracing family where you find it.

Following a dream, Zak finds it. And we feel it.