Till: A By-The-Books Retelling of a Harrowing Moment in History
Till preview screening provided by Universal Pictures
“Danielle Deadwyler shines even if Chukwu’s film scarcely goes beyond being another historical biopic”
There’s a sequence around the start of the second act of Chinonye Chukwu’s latest film, Till (2022), where a beaten corpse of a young boy is put on display at the wish of his mother — to showcase the damning effects of racially-led violence. It’s a striking scene because it’s disarming, making you feel uncomfortable in a way that I’m sure was even more the case all the way back in 1955 when the film is set.
That boy is Emmet Till (played by Jalyn Hall) and that mother is Mamie Till-Bradley (a brilliant Danielle Deadwyler), the character we follow throughout Till as she looks to bring the truth around her sons brutal lynching to light — a key moment in the American civil rights movement.
The problem with historical biopic dramas, especially with regards to how they approach heavy handed issues around racial hatred like Chukwu’s film, is that they often follow the same predictable direction as similar films in the genre. Whether that be the less-than-inspired courtroom scenes that stick to the script and feel like they could be from any film involving any trial ever, or the way it bounces from scene to scene, hitting all the expected story beats you know are coming.
The most unique and memorable part of Chukwu’s film is easily Deadwyler, who delivers a raw and inspired performance as the titular figure, using her toolkit of expressions and mannerisms to draw you in and leave you in emotional disarray as she fights what feels like a never-ending uphill battle. The fact that she wasn’t nominated for any major awards this awards season is a crime in and of itself.
What Chukwu’s film ultimately needed to really hit home the importance of Till’s cause was a greater exploration of her future actions and the activists she briefly interacts with in this film. The first half of the feels like it’s paced much more coherently than the second half as, once the trial and journey to Mississippi make their entrance, the tension and imagery take a backseat to more conventional narrative tendencies. Whether that’s a result of feeling the need to cram all of this in because the story requires it, or because not enough time was spent developing these ideas earlier, is unclear, but it makes for a weaker second half.
To say that Till doesn’t make for necessary viewing would be untrue, as this is a moment in history thats ramifications are still penetrating modern discourse around racial injustice and even legislation (with the Emmett Till Antilynching Act only coming into effect last year). There’s just a sense that Chukwu’s film is happy to be a by-the-books biopic, and that’s what this genre needs less of.
Till opens nationally from the 9th of March, 2023.
March 9th 2023Read more by Arnie
Category: Entertainment, Features, Film
Topics: Art, Film
Tags: 2022, criticism, Danielle Deadwyler, drama, film, History, Movie, Movie Review, review, till, Whoopi Goldberg
More by Film 101
Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves: A Silly, Sometimes Funny, Fantasy Flick
Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves preview screening provided by Paramount Pictures “Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is a jovial time […]
Shazam! Fury of the Gods: A More Conventional Superhero Movie that Retains the Goofiness of the Original
Shazam! Fury of the Gods Melbourne Premiere provided by Universal Pictures “Shazam! Fury of the Gods is a more stacked, conventional superhero […]
Champions: Woody Harrelson Stars in Wholesome, Somewhat Cliche, Remake
Champions preview screening provided by Universal Pictures “Champions is full of heart and uses its diverse cast expertly even if the jokes […]