Redemption Vondie Curtis Hall

Redemption Vondie Curtis Hall
It was with a certain curiosity, having seen the film Colors, that I experienced the authenticity of seeing real live gang members on a Los Angeles vacation in the early'90s. Meanwhile, Stanley "Tookie" Williams was in the midst of a six-year stint in solitary confinement at San Quentin Prison, becoming a changed man. Co-founder of the notorious Crips gang, he was convicted on four counts of murder in 1979. He was placed on death row two years later and remains there today. Tookie's "redemptive transition" included educating inner-city youth on the dangers of gang violence. With the help of journalist Barbara Becnel, the former "King of the Crips" created the Tookie Speaks Out book series, which have been published worldwide and earned him seven Nobel Prize nominations (for Peace and Literature). Redemption, directed by Vondie Curtis Hall (Gridlock'd), is a made for TV movie, though it was screened at Sundance before being aired on F/X in April 2004. Tookie's story is of course excellent bio-pic material, and this is a well-meaning film, but the production suffers from the format. The context of his gangsta days and the development of his character from thug to teacher is extremely rushed. The initially convincing narrative line subsides halfway through, with the last half hour being especially sappy, eventually going even beyond TV movie status into After-School Special territory. The focus of the DVD release is Tookie's life and ideas, with two phone messages from the man himself, and the addition of Becnel in the audio commentary (along with Hall and editor Terilyn Shropshire). Regrettably there's no featurette, so Jamie Foxx's amazing performance goes unacknowledged. Foxx melts into the role and nails both the heartfelt monologues and the exchanges between Tookie and Becnel (Lynn Whitfield). If this were a big-budget feature, there would be Oscar buzz. (Fox) (Metropolis)