`Faith' rests case on acting

Review: Though film's plotting, melodrama are too much, Vance, Dutton and Co. still sparkle in '50s courtroom story.

June 16, 1999|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

Courtney B. Vance and Charles S. Dutton deliver powerful performances in "Blind Faith," a courtroom melodrama in which these two fine, underused actors play brothers trying to navigate the racism, segregation and incipient integration of 1950s America. Their presence alone makes this heartbreaking story of striving and defeat worth seeing.

Vance plays John Williams, a Bronx attorney who must represent his own nephew when the young man is accused of murdering a white boy. Dutton plays John's brother Charles, a police officer who is convinced that playing along with the white power structure will ensure the family's advancement. When John begins to investigate the case, he not only discovers anew the grim realities of white racism, but some long-buried secrets in his own family.

Director Ernest Dickerson ("Surviving the Game," "Juice"), who began his film career as Spike Lee's cinematographer, evokes a warm sense of atmosphere in portraying a black middle-class family trying to secure themselves in a stately Bronx neighbor- hood, and he is clearly at ease when he captures them in spontaneous moments of intimacy, whether it's around the dinner table or arguing on a front porch.

But Dickerson is less at ease when it comes to plot, and ultimately "Blind Faith," which was made for Showtime and aired on the cable network last February, succumbs to emotional overkill of operatic proportions entirely contrary to its human-scale drama.

Still, it is such sweet relief to see actors such as Dutton, Vance and Lonette McKee stretch out to their fullest potential that the emotionalism and simplistic elements of "Blind Faith" can be forgiven.

Vance makes an especially indelible impression here as a decent, essentially optimistic man whose face registers every time reality and racism defeat that hope. (When a white judge admonishes John to "remember your place," Vance's face becomes a mask of rage, resignation, despair and finally grit.)

Even when "Blind Faith" hews to formulaic conventions, introducing a whopper of a plot twist, it becomes something greater -- in this case, a metaphor for the ways in which communities are torn apart just when they need to come together.

As stock melodrama, "Blind Faith" may be too much, but as a vehicle for some of the most gifted actors working today, and as a deeply felt reminder of the meaning of solidarity, its impact is undeniably powerful.

`Blind Faith'

Starring Courtney B. Vance, Charles S. Dutton, Lonette McKee, Kadeem Hardison

Directed by Ernest Dickerson

This film is not rated.

Running time: 118 minutes

Released by Roxie Releasing

Sun score: * * 1/2

Showing today and Thursday only at the Charles Theatre.

Pub Date: 6/16/99

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