Rosewood - * * *

Director John Singleton delivers a powerful, but overdone, depiction of a true life tragedy in Rosewood. The town of Rosewood, Florida, is a nearly all-black town in the 1920s. A drifter (Ving Rhames) wanders in one day, and is immediately accepted into the community. One family in particular, headed by Sylvester (Don Cheadle), accepts him in their midst. However, the peace of the town is soon to be shattered. In the nearby all-white town of Sumner, a woman conceals a violent tryst by blaming an escaped black convict rumored to be in the area. Soon a vigilante mob forms, fueled by racism, and begins to hunt for any black man to blame. Rosewood becomes an easy target for the mob, which in an unthinking fury begins to destroy the town. Soon, Rosewood’s black inhabitants are forced out of their homes, and must run for their lives. Only Ving Rhames’ drifter is able to help the fleeing citizens fight back the evil mob. Rosewood works best in its first half, both in its depiction of daily life in the two towns, and in the initial escalation of mob violence. In its second half, however, Rosewood succumbs to overkill, both in its heavy-handed tone, and with its revisionistic view of this tragedy. Imagine if midway through Schindler’s List some of the Jews picked up machine guns and began to mow down Nazis. It might make the tragedy sit better with the audience, but it does a disservice to history. The same holds true for Ving Rhames’ fictional character, who seems out of place, and distracts from the moving tragedy underneath. The film is filled with several fine supporting roles, including Don Cheadle as the first man to take a fateful stand. Esther Rolle is touching as the old woman who knows the truth, and yet is powerless to do anything about it. And Jon Voight has an interesting turn as the only white shopkeeper in Rosewood. The subject matter is moving, but it calls for a less cliched, and more honest approach.

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