Running Time: 2 hrs. 3 min.
Release Date: December 25th, 2007 (limited)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for depiction of strong thematic material including violence and disturbing images, and for language and brief sexuality.
Distributors: MGM Distribution Company
Directed by: Denzel Washington
JJ Rating: B+
This is a story about a black college (Wiley College) debate team that goes up against the best white university debate team for the first time. The Great Debaters shows their long hard journey during a time when opinions from anyone with skin that was as dark as the shadows cast by a white man were not requested let alone wanted.
A story that tells of struggle without screaming victim for the characters is a good story indeed. The Great Debaters embodied great story telling. There was no drag time during the movie. There was no me looking at my bright faced phone to see the time annoying other people around me. It had the right pacing and gave the right amount of information to allow understanding of what was going on at all times.
The characters were each their own person. That’s a good thing. There was no feeling that the movie would have been better off without mentioning someone else. That’s not to say that they should alter true stories to make it more interesting. The truth is always interesting more so than fiction, to me at least. But what the writers and the actors did was give the characters their own soul. It was most refreshing. I didn’t expect that it would be anything less. The trailer gave good enough evidence that the movie was going to deliver what it promised.
There are new actors in this film. They were Jurnee Smollett who played Samantha Booke (the first woman on the debate team), Nate Parker who played Henry Lowe and Denzel Whitaker (no relation to either actor) who played James Farmer, Jr. They put on quite a show. They all had chemistry. I would like to state that Denzel Whitaker was very good with the facial expressions of disappointment over certain things. He had a lot of silent acting that was small but if he did not do it would have made the movie less. Parker and Smollett were charming together as well as volcanic when against one another. One scene where she is pissed at him, for a brief moment in class, is funny and potent.
Then there are the seasonal actors like Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker and John Heard who played Melvin B. Tolson, James Farmer, Sr. and Sheriff Dozier, respectfully. Washington not only did an excellent job directing his actors to tell an important historical story, he did well in giving a very powerful performance with one of my favorite lines in the entire movie. “I’m here to help you find and keep your righteous mind.” That line is so powerful and so striking, it’s hard to forget and great to remember. Oh and it’s nice that Washington is in a movie that was better than American Gangster. I needed to see a movie that I liked with him in it. Whitaker is where all the attention goes to when he’s on the screen. He has that magnetic eye catching stance, and he doesn’t waste the time of the viewer when he starts his lines. Evermore was a vicious, mean man in this film. He did not have a lot of scenes, but the ones he was in were slap in the face vile. For there were men, and probably still are, like that back then.
There were great scenes. The ones when they are in their rooms for the first time at Harvard are funny. They have such excitement for being there and appreciation for the chance to show what they know and can do. It translates well on the screen. When Samantha Booke (with an E) gives her first debate in front of a white crowd she was powerful. That is one scene I really love. “No, the time for justice, the time for freedom, and the time for equality is always, is always right now!” Every single scene in the movie is great.
There was a scene where they see a man that was upon a burning cross. That was the first time that I ever seen something like that in a movie and it was disturbing. It’s very good, because I’m sure that’s what it was supposed to be like. Also I really like how it showed Mr. Tolson being persistent and showing that it was over time that what he wanted he got. It showed that persistence does pay off.
Why did I not give it a higher grade then? I have mixed feelings about if I would by it or not. That sort of had a role in my decision of giving it a B+ instead of one of the A’s. It has everything that a good movie needs. It just doesn’t have enough to make it a great movie. That’s why I did not up it to an A. Something was slightly missing to make it different than the rest of the movies that are like it. I can’t really place my finger on it but something that would have made it WOW great was not in it. There was enough to make it good.
The Great Debaters was a very good film. I’m pretty sure that it would entertain mostly anyone out there. If you love history, great acting, great performances then you’ll most likely like this movie. If you don’t like seeing struggle and triumph by persistence then this isn’t a movie for you. The Great Debaters shows that battles for justices do not have to be done with fists and weapons of slaughter. It shows that such battles can be rightly and justly won with the power of words.