Film Review – DEADLINE
Outlet: MR VIDEO
Director: Curt Hahn
Screenplay: Mark Ethridge
Players: Steve Talley; Eric Roberts; Anna Felix; Lauren Jenkins; Jackie Welch; Jeremy Childe.
Genre: drama; true story; detective
Strictly speaking, this film claims to be inspired by true events, which could mean one of several things: firstly, that the story is basically fictitious, hanging by a thread upon some racist incident in America’s murky history of discriminatory practices – or the main plot does have some basis in fact and has been decorated with a few fanciful incidents to keep the viewer stimulated. Certainly, a somewhat stereotyped sub-plot about a son’s poor relationship with a famous father could be considered the quantum leap of a febrile imagination.
There was a vague echo of the film Mississipi Burning, probably because Deadline concerns a racial injustice in the deep South, with the action in Amos, Alabama. A young African-American, Wallace Sampson, well-spoken, ambitious, and bursting with integrity, is saying goodnight to his girlfriend. Their gentle caring of each other, as opposed to heavy-breathing lust, is endearing but probably true to the time period of 1993. As she watches him recede down the street and waves to him, she is shocked by a hail of gunfire as he is gunned down outside the general store by unknown assailants.
Certainly, the introductory sequence was gripping stuff as the action then moves to 19 years later: Wallis’ murder remains unsolved.
Two family relationships are juxtaposed, although there are also similarities to draw between them: Tré Hall (Jenkins) is a blonde Nordic beauty, daughter of one of the local aristocrats of Amos. Our hero, Matt Harper (Talley) is an aspiring journalist with the Tennessee Times, who is forlornly failing to make his name through a big story. This is demoralising for Matt, because his father is a legendary journalist with a formidable reputation for finding truth.
The Police Chief has been gunned down, ironically outside the very same general store where the life of Sampson had been claimed nineteen years previously. Although commissioned by the newspaper to find out about the current murder, with Tre’s encouragement, Matt becomes more and more intrigued with the original murder, although it does seem somewhat obvious to the viewer that there will be a link between them.
From this point on, the plot settles into a conventional detective story in which our newshound probes people and public records to uncover the truth.
The cinematography is sturdy if not stylish but the music was too overpowering and lively southern ‘folksy’, with a crude attempt to symbolically tie a message to the action. For example, when Harper is initially despatched to Amos to ferret out the facts of the murder of the police chief, he is instructed to take Bullock (Roberts) with him. Bullock is a grizzled journalist, iconoclastic by nature, who has no respect for anything, except his enormous and aged red Pontiac, which undulates on the road like a sailing galley on on a high sea. The music at this point is ‘Bad News’.
A host of cameo roles also enliven the film: Matt’s fiancée, Delane, is a feisty artist who demonstrates remarkable freedom of spirit by breaking off the engagement because Matt appears to forget or miss critical meetings for the wedding; then there is a Southern Baptist preacher who ‘hollers’ exhortations from the pulpit with thunderous dedication to uplift his flock. In his church there is a simple carved wooden cross, symbolic, says the preacher, of justice in the next life and of lynching in this life – the cross was carved with wood from the lynching tree. The two fathers are powerfully drawn and command centre stage when they do appear. Baxter, the publisher of the Tennessee Times, is a crass materialist who puts publicity way ahead of pursuit of truth: he calls his readers’ customers’ while Harper calls them ‘citizens’.
The story of Wallace Sampson is drawn with simplicity, sympathy, and sincerity and the suffering of African-Americans is powerfully under-stated. There are doses of humour, often self-deprecating, from Bullock in particular and Delane in general.
Although the ironic and surprising ending seems a little pat, this film is a little gem which offers excitement, tension, humour and action in balanced doses.