"Shadrach" is Susanna Styron's affectionate salute to an autobiographical story written by her father, William Styron. We've learned by now that Southern movies tend to move at the languid pace of a long summer's day, that we must settle into our seats and let the South wash over us.
We are also accustomed to seeing these stories through the eyes of a little boy who remembers the sights and smells and sounds of it all from the vantage point of his own old age. Martin Sheen is that narrator. Scott Terra plays Paul, a wiry little fellow with big, expressive eyes and the soul of an observer who listens and learns from whatever he sees.
This is the Tidewater country of Virginia during the Great Depression. Paul lives with his fastidious, kindly parents in the ordered, sanitized life of a couple determined to keep up appearances in hard times.
When mother and father are called to a family funeral, Paul convinces them to let him stay with the Dabneys, a big, unkempt family full of disorder, lice, and love. Paul's best friend is Little Mole-as distinguished from his brothers, Big Mole and Middle Mole. Dad is Vernon (Harvey Keitel), who keeps the family going, just barely, by making and selling moonshine from the camouflaged still in the backyard. Mom is Trixie (Andie MacDowell). It is the portrait of the Dabney family that gives the movie its strength.
In a fine performance as mother of many Dabneys, Andie MacDowell creates a woman who actually does live in the moment-entirely untroubled about the mechanics of family living that lie untended. It bothers her not a whit that the place is a mess, that baths are taken when someone goes swimming, that bean shelling and lice plucking go hand in hand. But when one of her children or a guest speaks to Trixie, she hears every word that is said. She'll swill a beer on the front porch and listen well; her time is theirs. She hears them; she watches them; she loves them.
When Shadrach (John Franklin Sawyer), a 99-year-old black man, comes to the door, it is no surprise that he is welcomed and slipped into the family fabric. Shadrach has walked from Alabama to Virginia to die on the land he once worked as a slave of an earlier Dabney generation. Vernon's promise to bury him on family land runs headlong into a new law prohibiting burial of human beings on private land. It's Vernon against the sheriff in a slow-moving battle of wits and loyalties.
Although there is an instinctive regret that the dying Shadrach has so little active interaction with the family who takes him in, we soon understand he not a dying man, but the symbol of death. Everyone in this big family grows up a bit from having him there. This finely drawn family gives us a gentle lesson in Southern acceptance.
Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 498
Studio : Columbia Pictures
Rating : PG13
Running time : 2h13m
Copyright (c) Illusion
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