`Proud': good history, weak plot

MovieReview C

September 23, 2005|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,Sun Movie Critic

It's too kind to say that Proud tells the story of the only black sailors to take a warship - the USS Mason - into combat during World War II. Storytelling is not the strong suit of the writer-director, Mary Pat Kelly. She must be commended for bringing the facts of this amazing tale to light. But the most I can say about Proud is that it made me want to see the documentary she also created on the subject, Proudly We Served: The Men of the USS Mason, and to read the book of the same title that she put together with the surviving crew members.

Kelly gains nothing from placing the history she helped uncover into a rickety narrative framework. The late Ossie Davis plays a veteran of the Mason who also serves as narrator, recounting the ship's heroic history to his grandson (Albert Jones) and two college friends (Erik LaRay Harvey and Jeffrey J. Nash). Kelly overdraws on Davis' easy authority as the wise old man explains how he and his two best sailor buddies (Jones, Harvey and Nash play this trio in flashbacks) withstood the racism that confronted them and maintained focus on their service.

Kelly relies on Davis' voice-over and other anti-dramatic gimmicks to tell us what to think or feel about what's happening - usually pride mingled with frustration. The African-American journalist who chronicled the Mason's travels (Darnell Williams) functions as a narrator within the narration, eliciting straight-to-the-camera testimony from the sailors about their motivations. Kelly is no better at staging brutal racist putdowns from a chief petty officer, emphasis on petty, than she is at staging a shore leave in Ireland where Stephen Rea and company make the men feel cozy and welcome. When the Mason proves itself an ace convoy escort during an epochal storm, the content is strong enough to pull you through. But the movie drags on.

Back in the present, Davis tries to reconnect with his only child (Vernal Bagneris) and Jones lobbies for his granddad and the other Mason vets to win commendations that the Navy had wrongly denied them. It all becomes slack and lachrymose. Kelly's filmmaking fatally lacks two qualities she celebrates in these seasoned, wily men: discipline and sturdy vision.

michael.sragow@baltsun.com

Proud

(Castle Hill) Starring Ossie Davis, Denise Nicholas, Albert Jones, Erik LaRay Harvey, Darnell Williams and Stephen Rea.

Directed by Mary Pat Kelly.

Rated PG.

Time 87 minutes.

Review C

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