Shoot the Messenger
Wow. I was shocked at the opening of this film, and with some of the following scenes. The amount of anti-black commentary is surprising and possibly only acceptable for two reasons. One because it comes from a black character, and two, that when the film turns around that there's a strong message and meaning to be had from what's past. It's very interesting that your feelings are turned from racism to understanding so quickly.
The film is about a black guy who gave up a well paid computing job to start teaching black kids and to try and encourage them to learn, be better people, and make something more of themselves than they currently do. Unfortunately the kids don't quite take to him, and when he places a hand on the toughest kids shoulder to move him into class he's reported for assault, and before long his life is turned upside down. "Everything bad in my life is because of Black People" is his opening line.
Some of the messages of the film, like the previous statement, are quite controversial. However these tend to be softened by the character himself, his colour and the situation. Very quickly the story and the character win you over to understanding. This is a great effect and shows some strong script writing.
This too shows David Oyelowo is a great actor, although his performance did feel very much like that of a stage performance rather than screen. At times the he is very precise, enunciated and unrestrained.
The female lead played by Nikki Amuka-Bird is perhaps the strongest character in the film, and her performance feels much more real than Oyelowo. She provides the real world grounding against his often quite "out there" ideas.
The continual use of the voiceover, particularly at the beginning of the film felt quite overdone and took me out of the movie a lot. However the use does slow down in the latter half of the film and is mixed more with real world dialogue and interaction which makes its use much less obtrusive.
There's a variety of filming techniques used, and at times this is quite ineffective and actually took me out of the story to appreciate what was happening. Perhaps the use of some of these different camera techniques marked an attempt to pull away from the traditional BBC style, but it still carries that TV show quality rather than a feature film.
The film has a lot to say, much that could be agreed with as well, and most of which doesn't just apply to black people as the film says, but to all people. It looks at the issues of being black in Britain, teaching in the UK, the court system and the simple act of forgiveness.
This is the overriding message that I took from the film, that of forgiveness for yourself and for those around you. There's also a strong sense of letting go of the past and always looking to the now and the future. None of these are rammed down your throat, although you can see them coming, you're too preoccupied by the story and the character for this to become a big message leaping out of the film.
This film really is about the lead characters journey of self awareness and understanding. Just listening to some of the obviously inflammatory statements and walking away would give you the wrong view. That journey is also as much about people in general and not just black people, it's about how we all look at our own races, countrymen (and women), neighbours, friends and even ourselves.
The message is strong, as is the ending which I really enjoyed. I'd really be interested to hear what some other races (other than my pale pink coloured Highland race) thought of the movie and what messages it gave to them, and if you feel that there is more to see through the shocking words.
I did enjoy the film, there were flaws, but I thought it moved from deliberately provoking, to brave, to profound and to extremely relevant. This film is indeed controversial but worth watching.
Update: I've just seen this repeated on television, and I have to take back some of what I've said about Oyelowo, his performance is very strong, and so much so I've upped this rating from a three to a four.