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
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