Roots: The Gift Reviews
As generally genuinely honest as "Roots" is in its portrayal of black slavery, it does boast the occasional lapse in subtlety, something that is, in this film, consistently faulty, for although this series isn't as cheesily over-the-top as it could have been, its portrayal of this series' sensitive subject matter has a tendency to get carried away, not to where realism is thrown way off, but decidedly to where you're likely to be thrown off. This film is hardly anything more than minimalist filler, so I'm not asking for all that much depth, but the final product's subtlety issues dilute the full impact of this subject matter's impact and engagement value, which takes further damage from issues in pacing. As overblown, repetitious and uneven as both "Roots" and "Roots: The Next Generation" are, they rarely played with the risk of slipping into all-out dullness, whereas this film, while reasonably entertaining, has its share of slow spells to break up relatively lively spells, thus creating a kind of pacing inconsistency that makes the bland spots - of which there are quite a few - and the more disconcerting. The relatively dull spots of this film aren't too considerable, but they are here, and that's more than you can say about the relatively dull spells in this film's predecessors, which were't too thrilling, but more consistent in their entertainment value than this film, which further pronounces blandness through a story structure that is somewhat aimless, repetitious and all around rather thin. This isn't exactly the most thin Christmas special out there, partially because, after a while, you forget about the Christmas aspects that accompany this meat subject matter, which still isn't as meaty as it probably could have been, because even though this film has its engaging moments, like I said, it's not too much more than mere filler, and that is its biggest issue. The final product feels rather, to be frank, needless, going haunted by plenty of natural shortcomings to go with unforunate consequential shortcomings, thus making for a film that is just limp enough to underwhelm, then subsequently begin its journey out of your mind as rather forgettable. Of course, as much as the film fails to fully sustain your attention, what you are likely to remember about the final product is likely to be enough to solidify the final product as, if nothing else, adequately entertaining, as well as reasonably well-produced.
A near-epic-scale character study that spans over a century and costs $6.6 million, "Roots" isn't even all that upstanding with its production designs, so of course you shouldn't expect all that much fine production value out of this, but do expect this film to nevertheless deliver on designs that are lively and well-done enough to sell you on this environment adequately. They clearly didn't put too much money into this film, and even if they did, it would be something of a waste, as there really is only so much to this relatively tiny missing piece from an epic, but there is enough inspiration behind this series' production value to liven up substance that, while rich with shortcomings, is lively enough by its own right. Not even quite as long as some episodes of the two miniseries it succeeds, this film's story concept barely has all that much meat on it, being rather thin and aimless, though it's not like this lost chapter in the saga of Kunta Kinte is entirely juiceless, for although there is no denying that we're dealing with mere filler with this film, it is supplementary to the "Roots" mythology's depth, with a degree of dramatic weight, complimented by some enjoyable performances. There's not a whole lot for our performers to work with, yet there is still plenty of commendable acting, as well as certain show-stealers, such as the sympathetic Avery Brooks as a free black man who finds himself punished for offering other black men a chance for freedom, and the surprisingly effectively intimidating Kate Mulgrew as a mysterious bounty hunter. As for our leads, LeVar Burton and Louis Gossett Jr. reunite as well as you would hope they would, sharing sharp chemistry, bookended by engaging and distinct individual charismas that are occasionally broken up by a bit of layered depth that remind you of just how worthwhile the Kunta Kinte and Fiddler characters are. The onscreen talent does more to power this film than the offscreen talent, though that's not necessarily to say that the performance that helps in telling this story from behind the camera is too underwhelming, because even though director Kevin Hooks' storytelling is often more limp than I expected, there is still enough kick to it to provide a consistent degree of entertainment value, occasionally accompanied by genuine resonance. There's not enough of this resonance in this film, which doesn't even need all that much kick to begin with, but there is still enough juice to this project for it to do a decent job of fulfilling its purpose as an enjoyable, if a little too unnecessary additional drop to the "Roots" mythology.
Overall, there are more subtlety issues to this "Roots" installment than usual, and they slow down momentum, though not as much as the unexpected slow spells in storytelling that call more to your attention limp plotting that is itself reflective of the film's being too thin and unnecessary to fully battle back underwhelmingness, whose grip is still not too tight around this effort, as there is enough convincingness to production designs and intrigue to story - augmented by good acting and generally enjoyable direction - to help in making "Roots: The Gift" a reasonably entertaining filler in the "Roots" saga that will serve as a likable time-killer, no matter how flawed it may be.
2.5/5 - Fair
Anyways, the film turned out to be much more than I expected, and was actually a quite touching look at slave life in the 1800's. I particularly enjoyed how the film explored the varying degrees of feelings the whites had towards the slaves, such as the mothers fondness for the slave woman she grew up with (though she still thinks of her as something less than human, something akin to a very intelligent chimp, one could say), or Hattie's (bounty hunter) feeling of indifference towards them. She doesn't despise them (as you can see in a very interesting conversation she has with her captured slave), yet she cares more about money and adventure than anything else. Then there's the "Fiddler"'s master, who although one of the more tolerant masters, often has moments of thoughtless cruelty (such as destroying the Fiddler's violin before his eyes because he thought it shabby. He wasn't intentionally being cruel, as he gave him a brand new one, yet he simply couldn't imaging a slave having sentimental feelings, just like everyone else). All in all, this film doesn't veer towards any stereotypes. Sure, we have the obligatory apologetic-white-man-hero that appears in all fictional films of slavery, but he's offset by the many much more "gray" characters. Just like reality, slave owners weren't necessarily all "evil" people, the white people of the time were raised with the prejudice that black people were inferior, and despite this, some were better than others. Not all slave owners beat and raped their slaves, but some did. Some were kind (relative to the standards of the time), some weren't. That's really what this film is about; a real look at the society of the time.
The story is also touching, although a bit slow. The film is clumsily trying to illustrate the reality of slavery, to try and avoid veering towards any extreme stereotypes (all white people are evil). It illustrated the careless prejudice of the people of the time in much more original ways than just having tons of scenes depicting a white man beating a slave, such as the scene where slaves are made to act as mules for the white children's Christmas pageant. The film eventually came together with a touching ending of hope, using the slightly cliched but well suited "Star of Bethlehem" metaphor.
In short, this would be a great film to watch on Christmas Eve (the majority of the film is set in the days leading up to Christmas) for a nice break from the traditional films. The acting is wonderful, the story a good tear jerker, and the Christmas metaphors well implemented.