If a movie could talk…

Tim Powers

[media-credit name=”Photo courtesy of BlackPRWire.com” align=”alignright” width=”203″][/media-credit]The sounds of a prison ring out through the frame. The camera sets its sights on Tish Rivers. There is a look of pain and nervousness painted across her face. She holds a phone up to her ear, attempting to talk to Alonzo Hunt, known to his friends and family as “Fonny,” through the glass, the only way she is permitted to see her love. There is a sorrowful look on Fonny’s face. This is a man fighting a fight against the injustices of a society, a system and a virus of corruption. Tish has come to tell him that she is pregnant with his child.

Academy Award Winner Barry Jenkins returns with a follow up to his Best Picture winner “Moonlight.” This production is based off the novel “If Beale Street Could Talk” by the prolific James Baldwin. The story consists of Fonny being falsely accused of rape. The movie tells the story of how and why Fonny ended up in jail with his lover telling him they are having a child behind a shield of glass and how much he is losing in the process.

The movie makes clear that the man being accused of rape could not have possibly committed it. As he was not near the area where and when it occurred, he has an airtight alibi of not one, but two people, who were with him. But because of his race, it does not matter. He is framed by a cop who Fonny got into a fight with over Fonny defending Tish from a white man who was harassing her in a store. The cop wanted to take him in then but could not. The pursuit for the real attacker is subdued in favor of accusing Fonny.

The film is directed with incomparable excellence by Barry Jenkins. Jenkins outdoes himself, creating a visually stunning and engaging piece of art unlike any other movie I’ve seen. Jenkins manages to tell a story full of horror, sorrow and sadness and make it look beautiful. He uses beauty as a way to showcase what Fonny and Tish lose because of the injustices of a world of white privilege. The beauty of their relationship, the beauty of family and the beauty of life.

Jenkins use of color is what is particularly striking. With the help of cinematographer James Laxton, Jenkins is able to achieve this beauty. Laxton brings a feeling of warmth to the picture. The warmth of the cinematography brings a sense of home and safety. It allows Fonny’s prison sentence to feel all the more devastating because of the life brought to the images in the film.

The score of the film, composed by Nicholas Brittel, who was Oscar Nominated for his score for Jenkins “Moonlight,” is sensational. The score is pulsating with life and love. It is a quite romantic score. This score should earn Brittel another Oscar nomination come the end of January, with hopefully a strong chance of winning.

The film is led by stellar performances from KiKi Layne (Tish) and Stephan James (Fonny). Layne’s performance in particular as a woman fighting to save her love is layered with intense detail. Her facial expressions are a masterclass in acting. In truth, both give visceral, unique performances that work together like clockwork. The chemistry between the pair is unflinchingly explosive.

The film also features strong supporting performances from renowned television actors Regina King and Brian Tyree Henry. King, who at the beginning of January won a Golden Globe for her performance, gives a touching and brawny performance as Tish’s mother. King gives her character a sense of warmth and strength that ultimately lends itself to Tish during the proceedings. Henry only has a single scene in the film but he almost steals the entire movie. In his one monologue where his character describes what it’s like being in jail to Fonny, foreshadowing his future and it is absolutely heartbreaking to hear. It is delivered with such emotional intelligence from Henry.

“If Beale Street Could Talk” is a transcendent piece of filmmaking that will be remembered for years to come. It is one of the defining films released in the past year. Barry Jenkins serves up a strong installment to his filmography.