PG-13 thematic material, violence, drug references and language, 120 minutes
Real Texas events highlight the affecting, vibrant "American Violet"
"American Violet" is a must-see film for anyone that's struggled to make their way in life. It's based on the true story of Dee Roberts, an innocent small-town Texas woman falsely accused and arrested of drug charges by a racist District Attorney. The fact that Roberts is black and impoverished makes things even more fascinating. "American Violet" is moving, superbly acted and uplifting, effectively highlighting the struggle that so many have faced, even if it alters some of the events and people involved.
It's November 2000 and the U.S. is in the midst of electing a new President. Dee Roberts (newcomer Nicole Beharie) is a poor black single mother struggling to raise 4 kids from several fathers, with the help of her mother Alma (Alfre Woodard) in a small south east Texas town. She's arrested by a local drug enforcement agency on charges of selling drugs at one of the local schools.
The only thing is, Dee has been falsely accused of the crime, but was somehow on the list provided by a corrupt, racist DA Calvin Beckett (Michael O' Keefe) who rounds supposed thugs to get more federal money. The ACLU, led by attorney David Cohen (Tim Blake Nelson) takes notice of Dee's case and steps in to help her and the many others affected by the convictions. With the help of a former local narcotics agent Sam Conroy (Will Patton), they hope to overturn the convictions based on racist intent by Beckett. But with Dee's unstable personal life and position in the community, they have a big challenge ahead of them.
"American Violet" is a fascinating story of how Texas law allowed convictions based on a single testimony, and how Dee's case began to change that. The film is sublimely directed by Tim Disney (yes, he's part of that Disney family) and is based on real-life events that took place in Hearne, Texas, though some names, places and events are changed, probably due to legal reasons. The story is powerful enough to stand on it's own and it will resonate with many, though it lacks a certain emotional charge and power, particularly in its final act. Also, much like the small Texas town setting, it's pace is leisurely and slow, and the story takes too long to get going, but many will find it worth the wait.
"Violet" is superbly acted by everyone involved, especially newcomer Beharie as the near-destitute Dee, and Woodard turns in her usual excellent performance as the mother who stands by her daughter. O' Keefe also has a few memorable moments as the slimy, racist DA who is still in power, especially when his family testifies against him, as does the normally comical actor Nelson, in a serious role, along with reliable character actor Will Patton (you've seen him before many times, notably as the coach in "Remember the Titans").
"American Violet" is a small, independent film with big messages about racial relations and law, especially in the south. "Violet" is a must-see film and hopefully it's messages will strike a chord with those who see it to instill more change in the inequalities with the legal system, and not just in Texas.