Rosewood (1997) - Rotten Tomatoes

Rosewood (1997)



Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

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Movie Info

In early January 1923, a tiny Florida town primarily inhabited by prosperous African American families was burned to the ground by angry whites from a neighboring town. At the time, official reports stated that two to six people from the black community were slain. The rest of the town's residents fled into the swamps and never returned. Neither the perpetrators nor the victims spoke of the incident which was promptly forgotten until 1983 when a reporter stumbled across the old story and began investigating. Interviews with surviving victims indicated that the previous reports were wrong; in reality, between 70 and 250 people were killed in Rosewood during the four-day attack, an attack that was based on the false allegations of a white woman who was too afraid to tell her husband that she had been beaten up by her white lover. With a few fictional embellishments, filmmaker John Singleton rewrites this grim page from American history. One of those fictions is the addition of the enigmatic WW I veteran, Mr. Mann (Ving Rhames) who comes to town on the last day of 1922 astride a fine horse. He is welcomed by the wealthy Carrier family. Though many are suspicious of Mann, he turns out to become a major force in saving the townsfolk from total annihilation. The town grocer John Wright (John Voight), one of the few white residents, also plays a key role in saving lives, but before he does, he must resolve painful racial issues and make a difficult personal choice.more
Rating: R (adult situations/language, sex)
Genre: Drama, Action & Adventure
Directed By:
Written By: Gregory Poirier
In Theaters:
On DVD: Sep 9, 1997
Warner Home Video


Jon Voight
as John Wright
Esther Rolle
as Sarah Carrier
Don Cheadle
as Sylvester Carrier
Loren Dean
as James Taylor
Michael Rooker
as Sheriff Walker
Catherine Kellner
as Fannie Taylor
Elise Neal
as Scrappie
Robert Patrick
as Fannie's Lover
Kevin Jackson
as Sam/Blacksmith
Paul Benjamin
as James Carrier
Muse Watson
as Henry Andrews
Badja Djola
as John Bradley
Jaimz Woolvett
as Deputy Earl
Ric Reitz
as John Bryce
Ken Sagoes
as Big Baby
Kathryn Meisle
as Mary Wright
Show More Cast

News & Interviews for Rosewood

Critic Reviews for Rosewood

All Critics (49) | Top Critics (13)

Rhames' gravity and grace, Voight's pinched anguish as he wills himself to do right, the moving work of actors like Don Cheadle and Esther Rolle do much to redeem this film for human if not historical reality.

Full Review… | April 28, 2010
TIME Magazine
Top Critic

Although it increasingly succumbs to a tendency toward conventional movie heroics, John Singleton's fourth film tells a story of rare interest and tragedy...

Full Review… | October 18, 2008
Top Critic

The need to bear witness against atrocity, to testify that something wicked this way came, is the powerful drive that animates Rosewood, the story of an American tragedy so horrific no one talked about it for more than half a century.

Full Review… | February 14, 2001
Los Angeles Times
Top Critic

Neither the film's smug white bigots nor its uniformly noble blacks are well served by such oversimplification.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
New York Times
Top Critic

Rosewood is startling, infuriating, painful history played out as a not-very-satisfying, overly ambitious and overlong movie.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
San Francisco Chronicle
Top Critic

If the movie were simply the story of this event, it would be no more than a sad record. What makes it more is the way it shows how racism breeds and feeds, and is taught by father to son.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Rosewood

Look! as mobs of scary southerners hang black people for no reason. Watch! as Jon Voight shows his scary old man butt. See! as Ving Rhames kicks craker ass and un-hangs himself with his ridiculously strong body. Whitness! as Don Cheadle shamelessly decoys himself with a retarded kid who gets burned and riddled with bullets. Experience! aunt Jemimah tell stories of the old slave days. All this and more in Rosewood.

Curtis Lilly

Super Reviewer


Powerfull; and unfairly forgotten/underrated.

Michael S

Super Reviewer

At long last, we have a potent portrait on a fact that all too many people forget, or at least try to forget, and never should. Sure, some would argue that this portrait is too brutal of one, but we must never forget that Florida is also in the really deep south, no matter how much they try to tout themselves as so far south that they practically loop around culturally and are yankees again. Hey, us southerners are just fine now, or at least about as fine as you can get in modern America, but back in the 1920s, alone, shoot, I'm not gonna lie, we did some things that I'm not particularly proud of. Hey, south, north, west, east, space, it doesn't matter where you are, no one wins when it comes to racism, not even Warner Bros., because they pumped $30 million into this puppy, and didn't even make $14 million. Like I said, no one wins when it comes racism, and by that, I'm not just refering to this film's subject matter about racial violence, but also to how they got John Singleton to direct, probably just because he's a black director who did a film called "Boz n the Hood". Eh, actually, I don't know if I can entirely accuse the producers of this film for getting Singleton to direct this film simply based on racial typecasting, seeing as how they were proably just following the rules, because Singleton was your go-to guy for intense black films, whether they be dramas or action flicks, up until last year, when he contradicted himself entirely by doing a Taylor Lautner film, which is about as white as a film can get. It was either Singleton's token white film or him embracing how white his name is (John Singleton Copley was a Boston-born painter who died in London and John Singleton Mosby was - get ready... - a Confederate cavalry battalion commander in the Civil War; yes, that white), but either way, after "Abduction", I think that we can all agree that he should stick with intense black films, particularly dramas, because stuff like this film is well worth seeing, regardless of what the box office says, which isn't to say that I can't fully blame the moviegoers of 1996 for not rushing out to see this film, as it is held by back more than a few factors.

Looking at the premise, at just over 140 minutes, the film seems longer than you'd expect and is, sure enough, longer than it should be, going padded out by repetition, too much material and, here and there, too much exposition, thus leaving the film to drag along quite often, typically with the company of a bland atmosphere that helps in rendering the film occasionally dull and consistently rather easy to fall out of. The film's excess material leaves the final product to lose quite a bit of steam, as well as, to an extent, consistent focus, for one of the biggest factors that make the film so overlong is too much subplotting, in that the film will spend too much time with too many people, and before too long, things become rather uneven. Of course, it's not just its being too prevalent that makes the over-characterization problematic, as many of the characters are fleshed out with a profound lack of subtlety, for although these character portrayals seem realistic, the film is often too emphatic in its characterization, fleshing out many characters in fashions so obvious and even somewhat familiar fashion that their humanity find itself diluted. These conventional and unsubtle characters are, of course, a part of one of the film's biggest missteps as an obvious portrait on racism: oversimplication. John Singleton's direction is overambitious, something that you really can't be when tackling subject matter like this, for although it's rather difficult to make a portrait on southern racial violence terribly subtle, Singleton drenches the film in an overemphatic tone that turns this film into almost more of a message than a story, and with many cliches exacerbating that feeling, what we're left with is an unsubtle film that borders on self-congratulatory. The film boasts a unique and worthy concept as a film of its type, yet when it comes to execution, we're left with an overlong and overambitious project that plummets into conventions almost as much it plummets into unsubtleties, thus rendering the film's message messily handled and the film itself borderline underwhelming. However, as flawed and unsubtle as this film is, amazingly, it transcends that underwhelmingness, because for every fault, of which there are many, there is a compensating strength, of which there are many, and many powerful strengths at that, for although the film stands to hit harder, it still hits deep, and that's because this film, while perhaps too overambitious, can still back many of its ambitions up more often than not.

Again, this film's story is a worthy one, something that director John Singleton isn't forgetting, and isn't about to let you forget, as he will often taint his vision with his own ambition and craft an all too often unsubtle execution of his intentions. However, Singleton is also rather frequent in throwing in quite a bit of true subtlety, which may not always be terribly intense, but remains potent and poignant enough to breathe into this film genuienness and graceful depth that creates a pretty striking aura of intrigue that pulls you right on through the slower spots and right into the heat of the moments in some spots, particularly when this film gets nitty and gritty, and figures out how to pull off nitty and gritty. Being that the film is so unsubtle, its realist portraits on racism lose a realist feel and come off as artificial, and by extension, discomforting in a fashion not hoped for, yet when this film does fulfill its intentions, it really does penetrate quite a bit, as this truly is an uncompromising realist look at the harsh extents of the level of ignorance among the general community that dissipated long ago, though not quite too long ago enough, and while this film doesn't paint its portraits as neatly as it should, you'd be hard pressed to not find yourself disturbed, engrossed and with much to ponder upon when this film does strike the right notes in its studies upon the depths of inhumanity within humanity. Singleton makes one mistake after another in his execution of this story, yet he ultimately compensates pretty remarkably by what he does do so very right, and while I wish I could say that's enough for this film to fulfill its potential, it is indeed enough for this film to reward, though Singleton could have done it with his performers, or, well, at least most - nay - quite a few... - nay - some of them. Most performances are surprisingly restrained, and the ever so occasional lesser performance ranges from mediocre to, well, pretty bad, with Bruce McGill being the first person who comes to mind when I think of the really bad, as his southern drawl, jaw and dialect is overdone tremendously, or at least when it remembers to use it, and his overacting gets to be so grating that it's pretty amazing that someone didn't step in somewhere along the way and tell him to calm down, because he's playing this at 15, give or... well, just give a few notches. Outside of him, the mediocres and restrained, however, stand quite a few upstanding and memorable performances that really do steal the show, with Don Cheadle, for the limited time he's on, especially standing out and stealing the show in his charismatic and believable portrayal of a sensible and firm man looking to protect the rights and lives of himself, his loved ones and his people altogether, and once it begins to become all too heartbreakingly clear that the Sylvester Carrier character can only do so much to fulfill his intentions, Cheadle delivers on the deeply human layers and potent emotional range needed to define his performances, and by extension, his character, among the most compelling aspects of the film, and he ends up leaving all too suddenly. The film limps along all too often and ends up a bit short on the subtlety needed for this film to really cut deep, yet make no mistake, when this film picks up, it does take off, and keeps consistent enough in certain commendable aspects to keep you engaged, until by the end, you find left facing a generally well-crafed and ultimately provocative film, considerably flawed though, it may be.

In closing, the film is often slow and ultimately outstays its welcome, going padded out by some repetition, as well as too much meditation upon exposition, and it doesn't help that most of the characters this film spends so much meditating upon simply come out as two-note types, if that, which of course supplements the limited subtlety that, alongside the cliches and overambition in John Singleton's direction, lands a heavy blow to this film's effectiveness and leaves it to run the risk of collapsing to underwhelming, which is a collapse that never occurs, as the film finds itself supported by Singleton's inspiration's providing a consistent degree of intrigue, broken up by piercing intensity once he does get a grip on subtlety and milks this worthy story, and its messages, enough for you to feel real impact at points, a sensation amplified by a few bright spots in acting, thus leaving "Rosewood" to stand as a heavily flawed, yet generally rewarding, consistently engaging and ultimately thought-provoking dramatisation on a tragic testament to the brutality of a community whose actions must not go forgotten.

3/5 - Good

Cameron W. Johnson
Cameron Johnson

Super Reviewer

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