Written by John Cork
Directed by Richard Pearce
Starring Whoopi Goldberg, Sissy Spacek, Dwight Schultz, Ving Rhames, Dylan Baker, and Erika Alexander
My Advice: At least rent it.
The Long Walk Home may not be an easy movie to watch--it is painful in places because it’s too true--but it is truly engrossing without resorting to cheap theatrics. Odessa Cotter (Goldberg) works as a housekeeper for the Thompson family during the 1955 bus boycotts of Montgomery, Alabama. When Dr. King calls upon all African-Americans to boycott the buses, Cotter chooses to walk to work one morning, even though it’s a grueling nine miles each way. When she learns of this dignified woman’s choice, Miriam Thompson (Spacek) offers to give her housekeeper a ride to and from work to keep Cotter from having to walk so far for so long. Unfortunately, Thompson’s husband (Schultz) is a racist, and he and the White Citizens Council arrange things so that Cotter and Thompson must choose between their lives and what they know to be right.
Given the weighty nature of this topic and the continued racial tensions in most Western countries, viewers might expect this movie to be unwatchably stolid. Luckily, it is not. It may never be a light, Friday-night pick to help you relax after a long week’s work, but it is educational, sensitive, and just plain well-made. Don’t let the politically-charged nature of the film keep you from seeing this one.
The acting is absolutely wonderful. Goldberg is wonderful and charismatic as Cotter, but adds a human element and prevents this character from being merely an icon. Even people who do not currently count themselves as her fans will be won over. Spacek is equally good as the white woman who risks her privilege and happy home to simply be nice to someone who needs a little assistance; she effectively shows that even in the middle of a horribly racist group of people, there can be one person with a soul. Schultz, often underrated, is effectively sinister, but equally human, as he stands horrified by his wife’s “duplicity” in becoming friends with a black woman (and a housekeeper, no less); his final scenes in the movie are subtlety charged with emotion and reality. Rhames is, as always, a marvel and a delight to watch. The supporting cast, be they nasty or nice, is also good for the most part, rounding out the tale and giving a kind of epic journey the tinge of reality.
The audio and video are both fine on this release. I detected no problems with either, and even the sound was nice and regular. The digital remastering shows up in the motion shots, and while this film is not meant to be visually exciting, it is emotionally vivid. The silence speaks quite eloquently, and the nuances of small motions on the part of the actors is well-framed.
There are, unfortunately, no extras. It would have been a wonderful accent to have been given something like news reels or even stills from the time, interviews with individuals who survived those years, or even a commentary with the actors and producers, talking about why they made this movie and what it means to them. Certainly audio versions of King’s pertinent speeches would have been a wonderful resource. I would love to have learned more about the real people of this time in history or how far sociologists and plain old people feel we have come as a nation...and as one single human race.
The Long Walk Home may suffer a bit from being overly earnest, but you will still enjoy it, even being captured despite yourself. It is not only socially-conscious, but entertaining, proving that you can teach and entertain at the same time, without sacrificing production values or historical validity. Feminists will likely especially love this film for showing the simple, everyday courage of two women in a difficult, yet vital time in history; it is, after all, the women who move to change things here, and the women who defray possibly ultra-violent situations. Every American should see this film, if only to educate themselves about the Civil Rights movement. Would that racists were likely to watch this one...it could go a long way toward showing them the common ground between blacks and whites. Full of important ideas, perhaps one of the most important message of this movie is that what we do matters even when we think we are acting and choosing alone.
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