22 June 2000 | Captain Ed
Not bad -- but we've been here before
I've seen this movie several times on the pay channels (the joys of modern television!). Overall the film is pretty good, and doesn't seem to take great license with history, which is refreshing. My only serious beef about this movie is the same as with Mississippi Burning and other films about the civil-rights struggle: Why do all of these movies insist on providing a white male central character, out to do good for the oppressed black people? Why not do this movie from the POV of Evers' widow, or brother? Because the (white male) power structure in Hollywood feels that audiences won't relate to stories without having a WASP in the middle of the action. This is not to minimize Bobby DeLaughter's role in bringing Byron de la Beckwith to justice; it's just to say that DeLaughter came along very late in the overall history of this case.
So, as to be expected, we're shown that DeLaughter braves ostracism, family conflict, and a death threat (probably a lot of them in real life). All very true, but we lose the fact that the Evers family went through all of this and more in 30 years of keeping the flame alive.
There are some good performances in here, especially James Woods, who had to be having a blast playing de la Beckwith, a mental midget and virulent racist in real life too. Baldwin is okay as DeLaughter but as bland as he normally is, even while affecting the Delta accent. Whoopi Goldberg is very good as the contemporary Myrlie Evers Williams, but ridiculous as the young widow in the flashback sequences. She's obviously too old, and it leaves you wondering if they were just too cheap to pay another actress or if Goldberg's ego is so large that she wouldn't allow it. The actor who played Evers' brother is so outstanding in such a small amount of screen time, you have to wonder why they didn't do more with him.
It's not a bad movie by any stretch, and it does give us a chance to see a little of what Medgar Evers was all about. I only wish that the film had been more about Medgar and Myrlie and much less about DeLaughter. As one other reviewer commented, this feels more like a made-for-TV movie than a theatrical release.