Judge Dylan Charles has finally found a made-for-TV movie he likes.
A powerful tale of the fight for civil rights. Based on true events.
It's 1964 and African Americans are still being denied the right to vote in Mississippi. In spite of the efforts of James Chaney (Blair Underwood, Rules of Engagement) and others, the civil rights movement is making little headway against the local bigotry and intolerance. So Mickey (Tom Hulce, Amadeus) and Rita Schwerner (Jennifer Grey, Dirty Dancing) drive on down from New York city to try and lend a hand. Initial friction between Mickey and James makes the going even tougher than it ought to be; James is hardened and bitter and Mickey is relentlessly cheerful and upbeat. Their work together and the price they both eventually pay forms the basis of this true story.
This is what a made-for-television movie should be. Rather than the melodramatic, syrupy, content castrated messes that they usually devolve into, Murder in Mississippi works well within the medium. There's none of that pandering to the censors, with strange curse words, muted language, and awkwardly filmed love scenes; what violence there is, is used effectively. I take my hat off to Murder in Mississippi for working under the harsh restrictions of television and thriving without ever seeming trimmed and pruned.
The three leads are stable and well-suited for their roles. Mickey was bothersome at first, less so in the way Tom Hulce acted and more because he reminded me of those people on campus who are always waving flyers at me about porpoises. But it is this unrelenting devotion to the cause that helps to get things started, to propel events along toward their inevitable conclusion.
But this conclusion, the titular murders in Mississippi, is handled with brutal effectiveness. The camera shies away from some of the more contemptible violence, but the audience has seen enough, knows enough to understand the depth of the crime that has happened. It's not simply the act, but the loss of people who were willing to give everything in order to serve their cause. To highlight this, the murders themselves only occupy a small amount of time. The rest of the film serves their actions in life, rather than the resulting repercussions.
In fact, it is perhaps the predictable path of the story that is the biggest weakness of Murder in Mississippi. There is the Angry But Worn Out James who just needs the spirited gumption of the Cheerful and Inexperienced Mickey to get back on the path. However, it's an enjoyable enough and moving enough to warrant the journey, even if you have gone down this road before.
There's nothing in the Extras department, which is disappointing. There have been several developments in the case talked about in the movie that could have been shown in at least some small text file. We don't even get a "If you liked this movie, you'll love Mississippi Burning, Malcolm X, and Flipper."
Murder in Mississippi is a brisk, well-acted account of a dark time in our history. I find the film not guilty, but the court frowns on the DVD treatment.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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