Jonathan Demme's adaptation of Toni Morrison's novel is bold, intense, almost apocalyptic, harrowing, and extremely disturbing film. While the movie is essentially a surreal portrait of the haunting stigma and aching memory of a culturally-denied impact of slavery and human cruelty assigned to an entire race, it is also an encaging psychological study of maternal relationships.
This movie, like it's source novel is a masterful, shocking and cogently artistic work. It seems almost impossible that a white male filmmaker created this largely experimental neo-gothic and Feminist film.
It even more unbelievable that screenwriter, Richard LaGravenese, had a hand in this translation. I don't intent to dismiss LaGravense's talent. It's just that this movie operates within an entirely different "universe" compared to what one anticipates in his film scripts. These perspectives simple do not appear to connect. Though both Akosua Busia and Adam Brooks share writing credit. These two writers other efforts are equally opposed to "Beloved."
Jonathan Demme's careful use of Cinematographer, Tak Fujimoto, and Film Editors, Andy Keir and Carol Littleton, work fuses the movie into something altogether different from what an audience might expect. This movie is more connected to William Friedkin's "The Exorcist" than any other film.
Oprah Winfrey's performance in this movie has been tragically overlooked. She is every bit as effective here as Meryl Streep has ever been in any of her many films. Danny Glover and Thandie Newton are exceptional as well. But this is Winfrey's film.
It is an understatement to write that this sadly over-looked and often forgotten film sheds a grim light on the most horrific aspects of American history. It also pulls no punches in communicating that these unforgivable atrocities continue to impact the African-American Community today.
"Beloved" was largely ignored upon it's release. I've never really been sure why. Perhaps the surreal and/or metaphorical use of "horror" was confusing to people. Though this doesn't really make sense. The use of "horror" makes perfect creative sense.
I suspect the film's failure had more to do with the fact that this grim societal and cultural study was just too dark for most to take. It is every bit as powerful as "12 Years a Slave" -- in fact, unlike Steve McQueen's film, the metaphor of "horror" allows for a brief escape from the true horrors that the characters must face and move through. McQueen's movie offered no break from reality.
I remain firm in my stance that this is one of the most important films to come out of the 1990's. It is tragic to me that it continues to be ignored. If you have never seen it -- seek it out. Don't let the running time scare you. This is a fast-paced and encaging film. If you have seen it, but it didn't move you. See it again. This is an important film.
Criterion, can you hear me?
Oprah missed by a mile here.
I watched the movie, but that's enough - I'm so turned off that I will not touch the book.
It just sucked.
Creepy, confusing, overly sexual and deeply flawed - stereotypical characters interacting without much decency, rhyme, or reason.
No wonder this went nowhere.
It may have been cathartic for Oprah, but it will only give you bad dreams and pungent, incestuous nightmares.
This is not The Color Purple's sequel, it's a horrifying mess. I read The Color Purple and was enthralled as it was brilliant and cathartic like the movie.
Skip this unloveable mistake.
See The Color Purple again which has class and purpose, something Beloved is glaringly missing.
You'll thank me for helping you escape from this overwrought, oversexed dung pile.
I can't believe Oprah 'went there', still can't believe it.
half-star out of 5
If this effort's runtime seems to be rather questionable for subject matter of this type, that's because it, at just shy of three hours, is, and yet, at the same time, it's not long enough, as there are some distinct lapses in expository depth that Akosua Busia's, Richard LaGravenese's and Adam Brooks' script neglects to compensate for all of its bloating of repetitious filler, if not overwrought material. Although developmental shortcomings that leave many of the chapters in this narrative to jar stand as a big issue, bloating is as big a problem as any, getting so carried away with flashback segments, each characters' personal struggles, and other plot aspects that it can't seem to get a consistent grip on focus any more easily than it can on the themes of this drama. The film alternates between being a study on former slaves seeking new life with the horrors of the past at their backs, and being a supernatural horror-melodrama, and although both themes are thoroughly intriguing, the overambitious and overwrought exploration of them both leads to tonal inconsistencies, some of which are glaring in their seeing storytelling jar between dramatic steadiness and horrific intensity, both of which keep consistent in being backed by some lapses in subtlety. The script and Jonathan Demme's direction place a great deal of attention into somewhat graphic, if not disturbing happenings and imagery which is respectable in its audacity, but all too often too gratuitous for the good of subtlety to tone, which might be able to compensate if it wasn't so chilled so often. More than anything, Demme places a high attention into atmosphere and limp, disjointed storytelling which often borders on abstractionist, and frequently dulls things down, due to there being only so much biting material for the thoughtful storytelling to soak up throughout the final product's three-hour course. No matter how compelling this film is, it could have been so much more if Demme's heart was more firmly secured in the right place, and if there wasn't such a lack of realization to Demme's already questionable vision, thus, as things stand, the final product stands as an uneven, well, mess. It's almost by some miracle that the film ultimately rewards, but the fact of the matter is that, with patience, you'd be hard-pressed to not be compelled by this somewhat flimsy, but promising drama.
A period piece study on the struggles of black men and women during and following slavery, a melodramatic portrait on standing by family, and, just for good measure, a supernatural thriller, this film's story is way to focally and thematically overblown to handle all that tightly and evenly, especially with this film's experimentalism, but, so help me, it's daringly original, as well as compelling in its considerable dramatic and thematic value. Toni Morrison's novel carries a lot of potential to be made into a gripping screenplay, and sure enough, although Akosua Busia's, Richard LaGravenese's and Adam Brooks' script, with its mightily uneven structure, plays a big part in holding the film back, its gutsy, if sometimes gratuitous attention to chilling detail with edgy characterization, shocking themes and intentionally loose ends for viewers to ponder upon makes the film a commendable artistic expression, even with its writing style. As for Jonathan Demme's directorial style, even though it too has a lot to criticize, it delivers in its realized orchestration of, if nothing else, pseudo-gothic cinematography by Tak Fujimoto, and haunting score work by Rachel Portman, which is both beautiful and tonally effective. The visual and musical style do a lot to define the substance of Demme's direction, whose impact is actually held back by an ambition to pursue near-abstractionist experimentation, but is very rarely, if ever lost under the pressure of artistic bloating and slow spells, thanks to an inspired edge to dramatic meditativeness and striking imagery that, upon meeting realization, hits hard. When Demme's direction gets to be questionable, the reward value of the film is seriously threatened, and when it works, the horror aspects are downright terrifying, and the drama is powerful enough to secure reward value, with no small aid from the performances which truly stand out: the onscreen ones. Everyone delivers, whether it be Kimberly Elise as a young woman who comes to take matters into her own hands for the sake of her family, or Danny Glover as a good-hearted and uneducated man who comes to find shocking revelations regarding a place he thought was of refuge, while standouts include the amazingly convincing Thandie Newton as a handicapped wanderer who comes to a loving family, with dark secrets, and the relatively briefly used Lisa Gay Hamilton who appears in flashbacks as a broken slave woman who struggles to escape agony for the sake of her welfare as a woman and a mother, and eventually grows into an unstable woman wracked with guilt who leading lady Oprah Winfrey portrays impeccably. Winfrey is a revelation in her emotionally charged and harrowingly layered portrayal of a woman who slowly, but surely, breaks under the overwhelming pressure of pain which has followed her throughout her life, but hers is not the only nuanced performance, for there is plenty of subtle inspiration found on and off the screen to transcend the shortcomings with intelligence and resonance.
When the curse is lifted, uneven focus deriving from uneven pacing and overwrought plot structuring, in addition to an unevenness to what tonal bite there is in questionably, if not dully experimental storytelling, hold the final product back, and even threaten reward value that is ultimately firmly secured by original and engrossing subject matter's being done enough justice by generally intelligently edgy writing, beautiful aesthetic style, resonant direction, and across-the-board powerful and nuanced performances to make Jonathan Demme's "Beloved" ultimately gripping as an experimental, chilling, moving and altogether harrowing exploration of family and facing demons, both literal and symbolic.
3/5 - Good