Saturday 29 April 2023

Movie Review: The Great Debaters (2007)

Genre: Biographical Drama
Director: Denzel Washington
Starring: Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker, Nate Parker, Jurnee Smollett, Denzel Whitaker, John Heard
Running Time: 126 minutes

Synopsis: The setting is Texas in the 1930s. At the all-black Wiley College, teacher Melvin Tolson (Denzel Washington) assembles a debate team including students Henry Lowe (Nate Parker), Samantha Booke (Jurnee Smollett), and James Farmer Jr. (Denzel Whitaker). Lowe is a spirited womanizer, Booke is the first woman to join the debate team, and Farmer is the precocious 14-year-old son of a preacher (Forest Whitaker). As the team's reputation grows with a series of wins, Tolson pursues union-organizing side-activities, a romance develops between Lowe and Booke, while Farmer harbours a crush on his female teammate and waits for his opportunity to shine.

What Works Well: Based on actual events, The Great Debaters carries the earnest appeal of scrappy underdogs using intellect and courage to overcome societal barriers and achieve national prominence. The production design recreates an appealing 1930s Texas aesthetic, with the debate topics adding the texture of the era's depression-driven societal issues. The prevailing Jim Crow laws infuse the drama with the ugly potency of an unjust society.

What Does Not Work As Well: The power inherent in the story is more impactful than the execution. Tolson's labour activism, Lowe's philandering, and the romantic entanglements are ultimately small stories that distract from the central narrative. Washington the director pays scant attention to the skills, training, and practice required to succeed at intellectual debates.

Conclusion: Upstanding but not outstanding.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

No comments:

Post a Comment

We welcome reader comments about this post.