The day after watching Singleton’s fourth film, Rosewood, I found myself at a point culmination of long reflection: I didn’t want to write about this movie. It’s a movie that should be seen, but you don’t need me to tell you that. It’s certainly not a pleasant experience, and in this sense it’s a far cry from Boyz N the Hood and Higher Learning. Even if the movie wasn’t based on history, the movie would be tough to sit through – the imagery, the violence, the subject matter – it’s a rough one, kind of a downer. But I did want to chime in on Rosewood for the third entry in the John Singleton journey because I had one major issue with it.
As mentioned earlier, this is John Singleton’s fourth film after Boyz N the Hood, Poetic Justice, and Higher Learning. It’s the first film he did not write, and this is very noticeable. I think the filmmaker’s strongest suit, despite showing a strong eye for visual detail with Higher Learning, is his writing. His penchant for having powerful human stories inside these reflections of the ghetto makes me think that he could’ve had equal success in novel-writing, and even though the subject matter couldn’t be farther apart, I’d liken some of his movies to the Kate Chopin book The Awakening.

 

I read that book a couple of months ago for high school and it was certainly an exercise in theme, and how the author interweaves that theme through the narrative. Boyz was a coming-of-age tale with a message that was told with the surface of gangland violence in South Central LA. Higher Learning was similar. Rosewood was a retelling of the Rosewood massacre, which saw the destruction of a black-dominated town in Florida by the hands of angry white people. The dual-narrative was there – we see Ving Rhames and a family try to escape the violence – but this story lacks the thematic punch of the previous movies.

The message of “we really need to understand each other” I think is implicit – it is the lesson that must be learned by the event itself. The point behind Boyz N the Hood was the impact of a father on a son, how being a responsible father can save a life in this environment. That came out of the personal story that was unique to Singleton’s script, not the premise of the world. I can empathize with the creators of the movie; it’s a powerful enough premise to reach at least the standard of a great film. I just don’t think it reached the John Singleton standard.

There were moments in the movie that really could have been expanded upon, interesting ideas that were almost fully realized. For example, we find out that Jon Voigt and Ving Rhames served in the navy and army, repectively. Like Michael Rooker’s sheriff character, they are bound to action by a sense of duty. The two are here in Rosewood fighting a second war – allies in this crisis. But on another level, they would be seen as enemies in this time period, based on the colors of their skin. The fact that they are brought together here as soldiers says a lot of things, but ultimately the movie itself has this element act as almost an afterthought. It’s treated like parts of the characterizations, which of course it is, but it could’ve been more.

 The Singleton-esque moments of payoff that did exist in the movie worked, like the resolution of the racist father and young son, but the point of the movie overall was a retelling of a story that got buried. The plotline they created to run parallel to the historical events was also pretty good, though I’ve heard the ending chase sequence described as “to Hollywood,” or some junk like that. The ending action was very well-executed, but I think the pain and suffering shown on screen that led up to the rather exciting climax (Ving Rhames + shotgun = people falling off of horses = totally sweet) undercuts it somewhat. It was hard to get back from where I was led, and I think the effectiveness of the last scene (not very effective…) is a testament to the effectiveness of all that led up to it. I was not spiritually with it by that point (if that’s not too stupid for me to say) because the bodies in the pit and the hangings in the swamp sequences were just too hard-hitting.

I recommend Rosewood, but at the same time, I don’t. It doesn’t reflect on the strengths of our director as something like Higher Learning does, and it sure as hell isn’t a popcorn, have-a-buddy-over flick. It’s a sombre, powerful, depressing picture that is a product of a sombre, powerful, depressing time.

 

 

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