Deadline Review

Cold Case, Southern Style

Movie Review by Mike
July 21st, 2012

In 1993, Wallace Sampson (Romonte Hamer), saying goodbye to his girlfriend Vanessa Brown (Tucker Perry), is shot and killed in cold blood. The crime was never investigated.

Fast forward nineteen years, and Matt Harper (Steve Talley), a reporter for the Nashville Times is assigned to cover the murder of that town’s sheriff, who was shot and killed in almost the exact spot where Sampson was killed. Against the wishes of his publisher, Harper investigates the untold story of the murder of Wallace Sampson, opening a can of worms everyone thought was gone, lost and forgotten, except by the African American citizens of Amos, Alabama, who cried out for justice.

Roll Credits.

There is no way a movie like this does not stir up strong emotions. With all of the nation’s political correctness, it is nearly impossible to believe that we are chronicling events, not in the racially-charged South of the Sixties, but of this century, where Americans are still bitter over the Civil War, still bitter over giving up their superiority over the “fellras.” It played just as powerfully in GHOSTS of MISSISSIPPI with Gene Hackman, and most recently, A TIME TO KILL with Matthew MacConaughey. DEADLINE drags up all these themes and emotions in the same manner.

This true story is based on a 2006 novel by Mark Ethridge, who wrote the script and also won two Pulitzers for the Charlotte Observer. Talley, as co-producer and playing the reporter, Matt Harper, allows his co-stars to hog all the scenery. He plays the Everyman, surrounded by strong characters: his long-suffering girlfriend, Delana Calhoun (Anna Felix), his dying father Lucas Harper (J.D. Souther), a former news reporter legend himself, his editor, Walker Burns (Jeremy Childs), a news warhorse, who’s Southern drawl belies his shrewd office politics savvy, and Eric Roberts as Ronnie Bullock, a grizzled, gun-toting, politically incorrect investigative reporter, who among his arsenal of recording equipment in his spy case is a protected encasement for his Jack Daniels.

The backwoods cast includes every stereotype of hillbilly caricature you can imagine: from the good ol’ boy sheriff, to the judge that owns half the town, to the “Barney Fife” deputy sheriff, and every other Gun-Totin,’ Big City Hatin’ character to ever come out of DELIVERANCE. The square peg n the round hole in Amos is Trey Hall (Lauren Jenkins), the daughter of one of the town’s richest, most influential citizen, whose sole source of news and information is “Fox News and Glenn Beck.” She is the catalyst that brings Matt to Amos to help her find the truth.

It is a complicated tale, of misdirection, Southern Bigotry, red herrings, and just when you think the story has found its ending, another shocking truth is unfolded. This reviewer was personally horrified that such places still exist in the 21st Century. There was no ambiguity in the story. Everything was black and white, in the worse way possible. This movie may not affect others as it affected this reviewer, who was only peripherally exposed to the Racial Intolerance and Hatred that pervaded this film. But if you are a child of the Sixties, this will hit far too close to home.

As this reviewer has been prone to comment on the soundtrack of late, the music did reflect the tone of the movie as it progressed. It started with angry protest music, reminiscent of the Sixties when the story focused on Harper, transitioned into a Southern Rock/Bluegrass tone when the story moved to the South, into Gospel in the African American areas and churches, then inspirational when it came to closure. You can hear the transitions and know what was to follow.

On my personal rating scale of with “5” being drop everything and see the movie now; if you’re female, bear the producers’ children and “0” being burn down the theater, murder the movie staff, and violate their dog, this movie earns a “4,” using my patented Bell Curve for B-Movies. DEADLINE is a film that proves that the United States is not as socially enlightened as we may think we are. The main theme – a young African American shot down for no apparent reason – screams from the headlines even today. Because it is based on a true story, not much “fluff” was injected into the plot, but it was far from a linear story line. The film has no real violence, sparse coarse language, mainly in the courtroom scenes when African Americans were described negatively (you know what I mean), and no sex. This will play well on Lifetime, BET, and most of the lifestyles stations, and especially on the religious stations, where important life lessons are subtly integrated into the story line. I’m calling this a “Buy,” because after all is said and done, it would hold up to multiple viewings.

Get it, because America still has a long way to go.