A workmanlike slab of agitprop against racially profiled drug sweeps and plea bargains that extort innocents into ruin, real-events-based American Violet has the necessary anger to engage its subject but also the generic topical-telefilm aesthetics that often render it glib and inauthentic. Young African-American waitress and single mother Dee Roberts (Nicole Beharie, attractive and bland) is caught up in a raid on her small-town Texas housing project, falsely charged with narcotics dealing because state law permits indictments based on the testimony of a lone witness. Bailed out after three weeks in jail and refusing to cop a plea that would endanger her apartment, food stamps eligibility, and custody of her four daughters, Dee accepts the plan of an ACLU attorney (Tim Blake Nelson) to challenge the targeting of blacks by the county’s anti-narcotics task force and the dictatorial DA (Michael O’Keefe). Lingering on background TV images of the 2000 Bush-Gore endgame, presumably as a caution against capitulating to bullying officialdom, director Tim Disney does well by ace players in stock parts: Will Patton as a good ol’ boy lawyer with a bad conscience, and Alfre Woodard as Dee’s supportive and skeptical mom. (To her daughter’s assertion that pleading to a felony would defy their belief that “the truth will set you free,” Woodard snaps, “That’s in the afterlife.”) Bill Haney’s script has its most acute flash of societal diagnosis when, in one of the last reels’ numerous deposition face-offs, a sullen narc provides racial IDs to a list of suspects he’s busted: “Black, black, don’t know, black, I assume black, black, I’m gonna assume black again…” Yet to provide the requisite amount of reformist uplift, Haney and Disney make the hokey implication that manipulating one easily flustered law-enforcement bigot’s professionally veiled bias will save the case, change the law, and set all the good folks to hugging in church, minister Charles S. Dutton presiding.
- Samuel Goldwyn Films
- 103 min
- Tim Disney
- Bill Haney
- Nicole Beharie, Tim Blake Nelson, Will Patton, Alfre Woodard, Michael O'Keefe, Malcolm Barrett, Xzibit, Charles S. Dutton
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