Aug. 13, 2000
During the depression a 99-year
old former slave named Shadrach walks from Alabama to Virginia, where
he was born and raised on a plantation, so that he might die and be
buried among his kin. The descendants of the plantation owners
are a poor, filthy dirty white trash family led by
moonshiner Harvey Keitel and his wife, Andie McDowell, both of whom
are alcoholics. Keitel accepts the responsibility of burying Shadrach,
when he dies, and he and his family all believe that Shadrach has as
much of a right to be buried on this ground as they do. Besides,
Shadrach walked hundreds of miles to get there.
However, the law says that
people cant be buried on private ground anymore, and Keitel will
have to have Shadrach buried properly by a Negro undertaker at a Negro
cemetery. Sadly, Keitel has no money for a real funeral, and what
little money he makes, he and his wife drink up.
What youve got is a
believable character with a difficult problem based on interesting motivations.
Well, to me, thats the whole game. You dont need aliens
attacking, car crashes, automatic weapons or tons of special effects
-- you need a believable character with an interesting problem.
Keitel and McDowell go out
to the family graveyard, separated into the white section and the black
section, and there are hundreds of graves from when it was a plantation
dating back for 300 years, which includes all of Keitels relatives
and most Shadrachs relatives, too.
You must see the film, which
I caught on HBO, to find out what happens next, but it all ties up beautifully.
I really howled at the ending, too.
The story is by Pulitzer Prize-winning
author William Styron (The Confessions of Nat Turner), and
the film was directed and co-written by his daughter, Susan, who did
good work in both
departments. My only gripe would be that Shadrach should have
told his own story, as opposed to whispering it to the children, so
we could have gotten to know him a bit better -- its a small objection
in the scheme of things.
Shadrach is a
perfectly reasonable, solid little film with a good story and a top-quality,
thoughtful, funny performance by Harvey Keitel at its center.
Naturally, as things go these days, the film got almost no theatrical
distribution. All the money goes into the big-budget stinkers
and the good films, if they get made at all, have to sneak out.
Well, somehow this film sneaked between the cracks and is very much