Late Review: American Violet

This film just played the Langston Hughes African American Film Festival, but the distributor waffled on giving it a release date. Surprise! It's opening today at the Meridian. Our writer Melissa Anderson saw it; here's her review:

A docudrama with a good heart but a heavy hand, American Violet isn't shrinking. Changing the real names of the people and town involved, the third film by Tim Disney (Walt's grand-nephew) recounts the true story of Dee (Nicole Beharie), a young African-American single mother of four living in a Texas housing project, who's erroneously swept up in a drug raid. Her mom (Alfre Woodard) begs her to plead guilty and avoid prison, but Dee is convinced by a Yankee ACLU lawyer (Tim Blake Nelson) and a local attorney (Will Patton, wearing the worst toupee ever) to sue the bigoted D.A. (Michael O'Keefe). Mostly solid performances (the great Anthony Mackie shows up, uncredited, as a mentally ill informant) and admirable attention to detail about legal proceedings forcefully convey Disney and writer/producer Bill Haney's outrage over this nation's virulently racist "war" on drugs, though perhaps "The truth shall set you free" need not have been said so frequently. And while it's unclear whether a subplot involving one of Dee's exes (Xzibit) and his child-molester girlfriend is also fact-based or lifted from the Tyler Perry School of Melodrama, there's no arguing that the truth is always stranger--if not more shamefully appalling--than fiction. (Rated PG-13, 103 minutes) MELISSA ANDERSON

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