Starring: Denzel Washington, Ray Allen, Rosario Dawson, Milla Jovovich, Hill Harper, Ned Beatty, Jim Brown, John Tuturro, Rick Fox
Directed By: Spike Lee
Plot: Jake (Washington) is serving time in prison for the accidental murder of his wife when he’s offered the opportunity to get out for a week, and possibly have his time reduced, if he can get his son (Allen), the top high school prospect in the country, to choose the alma mater of the governor.
What Works: Denzel is terrific in this film. Of course, he’s almost always terrific It’s a heartfelt performance, and he really makes himself believable as a basketball player. The cast here is great, from Milla Jovovich (who I think has literally never been this good since) to John Tuturro in a small but effective part. But the breakthrough here is Ray Allen, an actual NBA player, who turned in a fantastic, well rounded performance. Normally, athletes struggle at acting, but damn… Ray Allen is fantastic. I’m very late to this party, but had this film come out this year, I would have been pushing Allen for a Best Supporting Oscar nomination. My favorite Spike Lee film is actually The Inside Man, but this runs a very close second for me. I think he crafted a fantastic father son tale, and it is just really well made. He puts his own stamp on it. There are some great shots, moments where people speak directly at the camera without breaking the fourth wall, and a fantastic score.
What Doesn’t Work: I wish there was more explanation as to how Jake got busted for murder instead of manslaughter. He doesn’t beat his wife, He just pushed her off of him, and she hit her head and died. It’s kind of a freak accident. Was he convicted because he was poor and black? I can’t believe Lee missed an opportunity to make a commentary on that. Once I saw why he was in prison for so long, it sucked the life out of it. I realized Jake was always a pretty good guy that just made one little mistake that ended up costing him his freedom. But from what we saw, he really doesn’t deserve 25+ years in prison. I suppose had it been worse, it would be harder for his son to ever truly forgive him. Maybe he could have been convicted of something else… and then his wife died while he was in prison? I wanted Jake to be a bad guy on a redemption story, but then I realized he was more of a put upon guy in a bad situation, and his arc had a different impact on me. I kinda felt bad for him. It took a lot away from the story for me.
Final Word: Definitely a well done film with some terrific performances. If you haven’t seen this and you’re looking to catch up, I strongly recommend this. It’s currently on Netflix streaming.
Final Grade: A-