Review of The Great Debaters

Review of the Great Debaters written by Robert Eisele and directed by Denzell Washington
Rating ****

I can honestly say that I don't think I have ever seen a film with Denzell Washington that I haven't liked. He adds just enough originality to each role that you totally believe in the character even though you've seen it before. This is another great performance by Denzell, even more impressive considering that he was also the director.

The structure of this film has been done many times before. I've seen it with black baseball players, black football players, and black basketball players. Here we see a black debating team overcoming racial prejudices.

You wouldn't think a film about debating would be all that interesting, but the filmmakers have managed to make debating compelling.They do this by introducing conflict both internally within the team and externally. Some of the external conflict, however, detracts from the story. More on that later.

The film fires on all cylinders: great writing, great acting, great direction, and great cinematogrophy. Even the soundtrack is first rate. Yet this film has had only lukewarm success. And that's a shame. We need more smart films like this and less films about comic book heros and puffed up TV shows.

All of the lead characters were excellent: Nate Parker as Henry Lowe; Trent McClain Boyd as Nethanial Farmer; Forest Whitaker as Farnmer Sr.; Jumee Smollett as Samatha Booke; and Jermain Williams as Hamilton Burgess.

The actual debating team contained more than the four portrayed here. One character, Samantha Booke, was based on the only female member of the debating team. Why they didn't just use the actual person is unclear.

The onle problem I had was with a side plot involving Denzel trying to organize a union for sharecroppers. The only reason it's in the film is to add conflict. But it makes no sense. I'm not even sure that sharecroppers need a union. Individual farmers don't belong to a union. Unions are designed to protect workers from bad employers. Here the oppoisng force is the town's sheriff. What? In one scene the sheriff leads a raid on a meeting where both blacks and whites are in attendance. Since the whole movie is about the gulf between blacks and whites, the scene is out of context.

The actual debating scenes are very good with each of the four debaters getting a chance to shine. The winner, though, is the scene with Samantha Booke defending the right for blacks to attend white universities.

The DVD has interviews with spme of the actual particpants and with relatives of other main characters.

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