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American Violet (2009)



Average Rating: 6.6/10
Reviews Counted: 57
Fresh: 42 | Rotten: 15

Though its politics are as obvious as its outcome, American Violet is an earnest docudrama about the justice system with a powerful performance from Nicole Behairie.


Average Rating: 6.4/10
Critic Reviews: 22
Fresh: 15 | Rotten: 7

Though its politics are as obvious as its outcome, American Violet is an earnest docudrama about the justice system with a powerful performance from Nicole Behairie.



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Average Rating: 3.7/5
User Ratings: 16,308

My Rating

Movie Info

Dee Roberts is a 24-year-old, African-American single mom struggling to make ends meet in a small Texas town. When cops arrest her in a drug sweep, she insists on her innocence. Even though Dee has no prior drug record and no drugs were found on her in the raid or any subsequent searches, she is offered a hellish choice: plead guilty and go home as a convicted felon or remain in prison and fight the charges thus, jeopardizing the custody of her children and risking a long prison sentence. She



Bill Haney

Oct 13, 2009


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All Critics (57) | Top Critics (22) | Fresh (42) | Rotten (15) | DVD (4)

While it may be about as subtle as a swinging sledgehammer, it does leave its mark.

October 15, 2009 Full Review Source: Seattle Times
Seattle Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

A well-played if too-familiar story of oppression and injustice.

May 15, 2009 Full Review Source: Detroit News
Detroit News
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A conventional but wholly gripping docudrama.

May 1, 2009 Full Review Source: Houston Chronicle
Houston Chronicle
Top Critic IconTop Critic

American Violet dramatizes Kelly's case, and does so in a way that will leave audiences applauding in their seats -- and wondering how much of the film is true.

May 1, 2009 Full Review Source: San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco Chronicle
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Director Tim Disney and screenwriter Bill Haney lay out Dee's story with a minimum of fuss. They are smart enough to realize that the material is compelling all on its own.

May 1, 2009 Full Review Source: Christian Science Monitor
Christian Science Monitor
Top Critic IconTop Critic

A torn-from-the-headlines tale of institutional racism and injustice in the Lone Star State of not-so-long-ago, American Violet might not be subtle, but it's certainly powerful.

May 1, 2009 Full Review Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
Philadelphia Inquirer
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Less a social-problem film than a drama of personal courage.

August 18, 2011 Full Review Source: East Bay Express
East Bay Express

Nicole. Beharie. Remember the name, for if her stunning lead turn is any indication, huge things are in the future.

August 31, 2009 Full Review Source:

[American Violet] is so compelling and intriguing that it's easy for the audience to forget they're being preached to.

August 30, 2009 Full Review Source: Washington Times
Washington Times

Put on your outrage cap.

July 17, 2009
Kansas City Star

It does almost everything well, from the direction to the performances. But it does nothing great, dragged down by an uninspired, and oddly uninspiring, script.

July 17, 2009 Full Review Source: Times-Picayune | Comment (1)

Newcomer Beharie gives a polished performance that deserves awards consideration.

July 16, 2009 Full Review Source: Entertainment Spectrum
Entertainment Spectrum

It's not enough for a movie to have a Black cast for it to be good, it must have good writing, engaging stories and impassioned actors. This film has all three.

June 10, 2009 Full Review Source:

American Violet is an earnest muckraker about the justice system that won't win points for style, but wins plenty for substance.

May 1, 2009 Full Review Source: Philadelphia Daily News
Philadelphia Daily News

Movingly told and packed with powerful subject matter.

April 30, 2009 Full Review Source: Austin Chronicle
Austin Chronicle

Thematically, there's a lot to like here, but the execution couldn't be more heavy-handed and two-dimensional.

April 21, 2009 Full Review Source: Movie Retriever
Movie Retriever

...a well acted piece and a scary indictment of the American penal system.

April 20, 2009 Full Review Source: Reeling Reviews
Reeling Reviews

American Violet is a fine film. Dee Roberts is not an abstract symbol of injustice. To watch a mother be wrenched away from her children is heartrending.

April 20, 2009 Full Review Source:

Raw and heart wrenching, uncovering the sort of discomforting, concealed when not buried history that in an odd trend lately, is more likely to make its way to the big screen than the news headlines.

April 19, 2009 Full Review Source: NewsBlaze

Audience Reviews for American Violet

It's a story that's been done many times, and it's a bit predictable, but American Violet is a gripping docudrama about the Texas justice system that features powerful and award-worthy performances from the whole cast but I expect nothing but greatness and stardom for Nicole Behairie. (Alfre Woodard is also amazing).
January 5, 2012
Raymond Wieser

Super Reviewer

Really, really good movie. Unreal that this stuff really happened, and still happens. I love a good true story, especially if it has Alfre Woodard in it. I cannot believe that this District Attorney was never fired, AND was re-elected to boot. What a world we live in. sheesh
October 14, 2010

Super Reviewer

Nichole Beharie as Dee Roberts gives a truly inspiring performance as a mother, living in the projects, who is wrongly accused of drug dealing, and then is caught up in a corrupted criminal justice system that railroads those who have little way of defending themselves against a system created to protect them.

The message here, while being a bit heavy handed, needs to be said, and the film does a very good job of delving into the consequences of a political system that simply bulldozes people for government funding, not caring what happens to those they trample.

There are some very touching scenes where Dee is jailed for 21 days for a crime she didn't commit; including a scene where she is allowed ten minutes to see her children - through a small grimy piece of glass that is stuck high up in a doorway. The will of this woman to perservere is astonishing, and the film does a nice job of showing you what would have happened if she had taken the offered plea bargain - a felony record that would prohibit her from receiving any kind of government assistance; from food stamps to housing - and, having a criminal record would severly hamper her attempts at finding a job, which of course could possibly lead to child protective services taking her children.

Dee has enough problems just getting on with life - trying to raise her children, with her children's deadbeat dad and his abusive girlfriend in the same building, and yet even after her conviction is overturned, her subsequent case (spearheaded by the A.C.L.U.) puts her in the D.A.'s crosshairs - who uses his substantial infuence to not only prevent her from returning to her job of 7 years, but even makes sure that she is terminated from the minimum wage job she finally manages to procure. All for a good arrest record, which not only serves to line the county coffers via federal funds, but keeps the D.A.'s "tough on crime" credo in the spotlight - and, ugliest of all, satisfies his predudice against people of color.

Still, Dee persists, and the D.A. is forced to make restitution to those wrongfully accused; but the bigger victory is that the law in which a person could be tried based on information provided by a single source,without corroborating evidence, was overturned.

This is a very forthright docu-drama, earnestly filmed, that includes an inspiring lead performance and some equally fine supporting performances by the likes of Alfre Woodard, Will Patten, Tim Blake Nelson, and Charles Dutton.
September 16, 2010
paul sandberg

Super Reviewer

In "American Violet," Dee Roberts(Nicole Beharie), a single mother of four and a waitress in Melody, Tx, finds herself getting caught up in a police dragnet orchestrated by District Attorney Calvin Beckett(Michael O'Keefe) who has a fondness for helicopters. She is shocked to discover this has nothing to do with the $782 she owes in parking tickets. She and many of her neighbors in a public housing project are accused of selling drugs on the word of a single informant and her bail is set at $70,000 which of course she cannot afford. Her young court appointed lawyer David Higgins(Paul David Story) advises her to take the plea bargain, a 10 year suspended sentence, which many of her fellow defendants accept. But if she does, she will lose any benefits and the public housing where she lives. This is not the first time this has happened as the ACLU gets involved in the person of David Cohen(Tim Blake Nelson) who petitions local lawyer Sam Conway(Will Patton) to help in the case.

Based on a true story, "American Violet" should frighten anyone who genuinely fears the power the government can wield against its own citizens. Clearly told, the movie also asks questions about the criminal justice system and how the poor and minorities become trapped in it that somebody will have to answer one day, with a special focus on the war on drugs.(Remember, everyone is innocent until proven guilty.) My favorite scene is where David identifies himself as ACLU, while approaching Sam at a gun range. The movie is not without its share of faults, however, as it could have been better directed. It is also a little too neatly resolved(Damn you, Law and Order!), even if the story is still ongoing. Luckily, the movie is not that heavyhanded, as its sole Potemkin moment comes in an early sequence. And through Will Patton's bravura performance, Sam becomes as much a center of the story as Dee who has the most to lose and proves there is always something worth fighting for.
August 6, 2010
Walter M.

Super Reviewer

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