Direction: John Sayles
Rating: *** ½
At long last, a John Sayles movie (his 16th, incidentally) makes it to our multiplexes. The work of the unwaveringly independent writer-director has been accessible, so far, only to regular film festival goers and DVD geeks.
Over to a small town in Alabama, circa 1950, Honeydripper charts the desperation of an ageing piano player (Glover) to kick start his foundering lounge bar. A rival juke-box joint down the road has stolen away the business. Worse, there is no money to pay the rent or replenish the liquor stock.
With an observant eye for human frailty, Sayles examines the myriad characters, be it an itinerant young guitarist (real-life virtuoso Gary Clark Jr.), a corrupt local sheriff (old-timer Stacy Keach, in snap-’n’-snarl mode), the bar owner’s overly pious wife (Hamilton) and their perky teenage daughter (Yaya DaCosta).
The director also displays a keen ear for colloquial dialogue, besides heightening the drama with a soulful soundtrack. Throughout, the local atmosphere is convincingly recreated, courtesy the evocative cinematography by Dick Pope.
There are snafus in the dramaturgy like the redundant character of a blind singer (blues legend Keb’Mo’) who merely pops up at regular intervals. Besides, some of the sub-plots like the one involving a rich white housewife (the all-too-rarely seen Mary Steenburgen) are perfunctory.
From the uniformly competent ensemble, Danny Glover is excellent, embodying the role of the tenacious proprietor to perfection.
Ultimately, even though it doesn’t measure up to Sayles’s finest films (Lone Star, Men With Guns, Sunshine State), this musical fable is certainly a must on the discerning moviegoer’s agenda.