-The first of (presumably) many Obama biopics, and a return to form from Mel Gibson.
It was nice to get a movie with a political feel that stayed clear of being too heavy handed into this election cycle. While filled with the future political leanings of President Obama, Southside With You stays true to how it was marketed, a near real-time capturing of the first date between Barack and Michelle during their time in Chicago together.
We flutter from street to street, event to event, watching Barack speak or Michelle scold him for not understanding her plight as a black woman in the legal field where such a thing was nearly unprecedented. A rickety and immature start to the film is quickly scrapped for good chemistry between the stars, eventually congealing with a town hall meeting where Barack shows his presidential charisma to city-folk in need.
Barack is played with an attention to detail by the very solid Parker Sawyers, a relative unknown in the movie industry. He has a profile similar to Obama’s and the movements down perfectly, but keeps the voice different enough so it doesn’t sound like an exaggerated impersonation. He makes the role his own, comfortably inhabiting Barack’s pauses in speech and mannerisms.
Michelle is Tika Sumpter, a moderately famous actress who has carved out small roles in her past, but this may be her biggest showcase. There are good portions of her performance, showing her daily struggle as an outsider in her career field, but she doesn’t carry the chemistry with Sawyers the way we would like. In fact, the occasional scene of incessant whining from Michelle is a bit shocking considering the sturdy public image of Ms. Obama. Some moments just aren’t up to par with a great biopic performance, and there may be too much meat here for Tika Sumpter to carve out her own feel to the performance. Even so, she does a fine job.
Despite some occasional inconsistency, a good score, decent performances, and a perfect time for this film to come out, Southside With You works for what it is, escapist entertainment for those who wonder about how the Obamas came to be.
Southside With You (2016)
Director: Richard Tanne (X)
Starring: Parker Sawyers, Tika Sumpter
RT Score: 92%
If the film was marketed as a return to form for Mel Gibson, this certainly takes the cake, as we get a Liam Neeson vehicle that Gibson decided to make all his own.
A recovering alcoholic in a remote trailer community, Gibson’s John does the occasional tattoo to make some extra cash while living next to his sponsor and dear friend Kirby (William H. Macy). His serene little life is changed for good when he gets a frantic call from his drugged-out daughter (Erin Moriarty) who seems to have all the wrong people after her, including a nasty mobster ex-boyfriend (Diego Luna). When they come looking for her, it’s up to John to keep his daughter safe, all means necessary.
The film is drastically rural, focusing much on the sense of anarchy that is exercised by the characters in this film, where motorcycle gangs and drug trades rule the societal systems. Although Gibson is used to this, he is trying to stay out of the darkness, and when his daughter drags him back in, there will be hell to pay.
Mel Gibson, despite some notable personality flaws, is a great actor, perhaps one of the best to ever do it. Again, although this is an inconsistent film, he proves his ability to carry a story with solid action but also a depth of emotion that is unmatched.
The issues with the film come from the execution after the initial idea and performance were turned in. Although a revenge-action film starring Gibson, in a return to the big screen, would be fantastic, there’s a lot of work to be done outside of that, most of which is haphazardly thrown together at the last minute. Although we understand why his daughter is on the run, the background information gleaned about her boyfriend and their situation never quite becomes clear, and the far-fetched revenge that the mob desires is just pretty over the top, delivered with a lack of any dramatic heft entirely. Mix that with some wildly awful political conversations that literally halt the movie in its tracks (they go on speeching for about two minutes and then resume the plot), so that the result is an ideologically abhorrent film that refuses to take itself seriously.
It’s fun to watch Gibson back in action, and there’s good stuff here in Blood Father, but it has very little attention to detail, and may be best served as a rental watch in the future.
Blood Father (2016)
Director: Jean-Francois Richet (Mesrine, One Wild Moment)
Starring: Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, Diego Luna, Michael Parks, and William H Macy
RT Score: 84%