Fox // 2004 // 93 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Eric Profancik (Retired) // December 21st, 2004
Gangster. Death Row Inmate. Nobel Peace Prize Nominee.
I must have missed this one back in 2001 -- missed the news story, that is. It's not often that a convicted murderer is nominated for the Nobel Prize for Peace. That's an impressive accomplishment for anyone, and thusly magnified considering the circumstances of Stan "Tookie" Williams. Though he ended up not winning -- he lost to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan -- there's something inordinately remarkable about the man who started the Crips earning this distinction. Too bad Redemption doesn't adequately convey that accomplishment.
Stan "Tookie" Williams (Jamie Foxx, Ray, Collateral,
In Living Color) co-founded the legendary Crips gang in Los Angeles. He
was convicted in 1981 of murdering four people during a robbery -- a crime for
which Tookie claims his innocence. Since then, he has spent his days in San
Quentin. For six and a half years, Tookie was in solitary confinement, where he
began a journey of self-discovery and rebirth. He began to realize the errors of
his ways and the destructive nature of the Crips.
Barbara Becnel (Lynn Whitfield, Head of State, A Thin Line Between Love and Hate) is a writer who has decided to investigate the history of the Crips. To make it as complete and accurate as possible, she wants to interview Tookie. He ignores numerous requests, but he finally agrees to meet her after an old friend steps in. As the two meet and discuss the Crips, Becnel begins to realize that Tookie is more than she imagined. He isn't the devil the world has made him out to be. Instead, he is an intelligent man, haunted by his past and his mistakes. Over time, Becnel's book on the history of the Crips is abandoned for something else: a series of children's books about gangs. These books, to be written by Tookie and edited by Becnel, are meant to teach children that gangs are not the right path to follow.
Tookie's books become a worldwide sensation, eventually garnering him two Nobel Prize nominations: one for Peace and another for literature. With all of his energy, Tookie works to create a "peace protocol" to dismantle gang violence around the world.
Somewhere there is a powerful story to be told about Stan "Tookie" Williams; unfortunately, it's not here in Redemption. This made-for-TV movie (which I wouldn't have guessed had I not learned it during my research) failed to fully capture my attention. While it smartly and succinctly details the history of Tookie, it didn't make me care about Tookie at all. And that's quite a sad statement, considering the man earned two Nobel Prize nominations. When I'm watching the story of a man who went from leader of the Crips to convicted felon to Nobel Prize nominee and I still am not entertained for an hour and a half, there is a problem.
Two things lead to this movie's failing: its emotional detachment and its narrative shortcuts.
In a story of this nature, one where the audience is to be impressed and inspired by what the protagonist has done, we need to feel his plight and understand how and why he has changed. We need to have our emotional buttons pushed. But Redemption barely does that. Most of the time, it's a clinical examination of the facts, and the few instances when we're supposed to feel moved, there's a lack of passion, and the movie comes off as ham-fisted instead. Tookie has to be a man dripping with menace, charisma, and power, but those characteristics aren't conveyed in the film. He's just a man. And as we are shown how his life has unfolded, the story feels detached, both emotionally and narratively. Jumping across time from his youth to the present, it's sometimes hard to know where we are in the timeline. Instead of giving a clear, step-by-step walkthrough of boy to Crip to felon, the story hops around Tookie's life, highlighting events that seem relevant to the story at the time. I believe that a simple chronological approach would have served the story better, showing how events in his life have built upon themselves, creating the man he is today.
I do need to make some mention of Jamie Foxx's performance in this movie, which I think is just good. He is certainly not the man we first met during his In Living Color days, but he's not quite up to his Ray performance yet. He does a decent job, but he too seems to be a little detached from his character. Again, he didn't portray the character with any charisma, and for a man like Tookie, that's essential. A man doesn't create the Crips and become feared without a strong personality. Instead of getting a sense of that, though, we get quick flashback clips of Tookie during his reign of power. People are simply there, following him, worshiping him, wanting to be him.
I wish I could have gotten more from this film, because it seems like there's an incredible story to be told.
This disc offers up both a 1.78:1 anamorphic and a full-frame transfer. For the most part, the video is solid with strong colors, rich blacks, excellent detail, and no errors. However, in the numerous flashback sequences, where they opted to go to a sepia-infused palette, there's a tremendous explosion of grain. By the end of the film, I had learned to ignore it, but it was quite distracting at first. On the audio side, you can choose either a Dolby Digital 5.1 or a 2.0 mix. I found the 5.1 mix serves the movie well with crisp, clear dialogue and excellent use of all surrounds.
A few bonus items are available on the DVD. The biggie is an audio commentary featuring director Vondie Curtis Hall (Glitter), editor Terilyn Shropshire, and co-producer Barbara Becnel (the same Becnel featured in the film). I must say this is one of the driest, most detached commentaries I've ever heard. Add to that some incredible gaps of silence, and I wasn't enjoying myself. I will admit that I learned a few things, especially from Becnel, who appears to have been recorded separately from the other two. Also available are two "messages" from Stan "Tookie" Williams. The first (4.5 minutes) is a general "stay out of trouble" speech while the second (5.5 minutes) is a quick talk about the movie. There both momentarily interesting, if for nothing else than hearing from Tookie himself.
I never would have guessed this was a made-for-TV movie. The overall production values and look of the movie have the feel of a true Hollywood release. Also, I guess I don't realize how liberal television is becoming, because there are some graphic scenes of violence in the movie. That alone was enough for me to disqualify this as a TV movie.
The powerful message of Stan "Tookie" Williams is lost in this film. Instead of being awed by his life story and his change to abolish gangs, we are left with a tepid, clumsy, detached story of his life. We get to know the man but we really don't get to know him at all. We're left wondering more about Tookie, and we wonder just how he got to this point in his life. Is he genuine? Is it an act? Who is Tookie? It's not a bad undertaking, but so much more could have and should have gone into the telling. Not surprisingly, I'm not recommending this disc for either rental or purchase. If you're lucky, maybe it'll show up on reruns on FX one day.
Redemption is hereby found guilty of lackluster storytelling. It is sentenced to thirty days solitary confinement.
Review content copyright © 2004 Eric Profancik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Audio Commentary with Director Vondie Curtis Hall, Editor Terilyn Shropshire, and Co-Producer Barbara Becnel
* A Message from Stan "Tookie" Williams
* A Message About Redemption from Stan "Tookie" Williams
* Official Site for Stan "Tookie" Williams