Review of American Violet directed by Tim Disney and written by Bill Haney
I am drawn to stories of injustice, especially those dealing with wrongful conviction. This story is about prosecutorial misconduct with an underlying theme of racism. The case in question here deals with the practice of one Texas District Attorney who orchestrated drug raids in poverty stricken black neighborhoods where they rounded up just about everyone in sight and then charged them with drug trafficking. They did this with little or no evidence.
Why would someone do this? Once these individuals were in custody, their bail bonds were set so high that they couldn't possibly make them. They were then pressured into accepting plea bargains where they would plead guilty and then be released. The DA was thus able to show a high level of convictions, which he was then able to parlay into additional federal funds. The impact on those who were caught up in this injustice suffered greatly. Those who accepted the plea bargains had to face an already bleak situation with the added burden of being convicted felons, thus severely hampering their ability to get jobs and federal assistance. Those who decided to fight the charges were assigned a public attorney who couldn't care less about the outcomes of his clients' cases. The film didn't go into any specifics, but the implication was that those who chose to fight most certainly lost and were given lengthly prison sentences as a result. This all changed when the ACLU got involved and decided to go after the DA with a law suit filed by one of those wrongfully charged.
The person the ACLU decided to back was Dee Roberts, played here by Nicole Behaire. Remember, this is based on a true story. Not knowing the details of the real case, I can't say how accurately the story told in the film follows the actual case. But it isn't an overstatement that Dee took a very large gamble in going after the DA. If she lost she could have received a lengthly prison sentence. She also had the possibility of losing her children.
To help navigate the local legal system, the ACLU hired local lawyer Sam Conroy, pplayed by Will Patton. Once the case was laid out in pretrial hearings and the state's lone witness was shown to be not credible, all charges were dropped. Dee and the ACLU, however, decided to continue with the lawsuit in order to stop the practice of the unlawful drug raids.
While the outcome isn't really in question, getting there is nonetheless compelling. There are a number of notewortrhy performances. Nicole Behaire, Will Patton, Xzibit, Tim Blake Nelson, and Michael O'keefe all give believable portrayals. The story jumps around a bit as the filmmakers try to condense the story into a two hour film, but for the most part they succeed.
At the end of the movie there is a short superimposed update on a few of the main characters. From this we learn that the DA involved in this case had won re-election. Let's hope that now that this film is out the voters won't make the same mistake.
The only extras on the disc is an audio commentary, which I haven't gotten to yet but plan to. I would have liked to have seen a little something on the actual case. The web site for the movie was also lacking any pertinent information about the real Dee Roberts.