If Beale Street Could Talk

KiKi Layne and and Stephan James as Tish Rivers and Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt in “If Beale Street Could Talk.”

Brace yourselves for one of the most gritty and praise-worthy films of 2018. Thirty-nine-year-old director Barry Jenkins returns to his Oscar-winning form as he presents us with a period drama focused on the wrongful imprisonment of a young African-American from Harlem. 

Caught up in this legal entrapment is a deeply supportive family led by a mother-in-law of the accused, and a pregnant wife left behind to raise a child without her husband—the infant’s father. 

A social time bomb, “If Beale Street Could Talk” reveals the black experience as few movies can.

Director Jenkins, whose 2016 film “Moonlight” exposed the drug-infested pitfalls of Miami and earned Academy Awards for best picture, best director and best adapted screenplay, rekindles the hardened voices and discriminated perspectives less developed in most other films. 

Last year’s highly acclaimed Netflix release “Mudbound,” which intensely showcased the racial biases and intimidation found within the Mississippi Delta farming lands of the South, is my closest comparison to this daring narrative.

From the 1974 novel by James Baldwin, “If Beale Street Could Talk” tightly frames romance, innocence, and family into steel-forged relationships. No screen role more impressive than that of Regina King as Sharon Rivers, the mother to 19-year-old pregnant wife Tish, who watches as Tish’s husband faces baseless charges and racially charged incarceration. King’s career performance in this story encapsulates the heartfelt pain felt by all: an innocent life cut short; a tenacious spouse willing to keep the faith through it all; and a father, mother and sister never stopping for one moment to cast doubt or blame towards their family member in need of love and support.

Unlocking the discrimination found in our legal system, the film reveals the story of Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt through exceptional editing and crisp cinematography. We learn of Fonny’s quick courtship with Tish in small bites woven between heartache and pain. 

Through the glass of confinement, their marriage and attempts at finding justice tick by in weeks, months and years. Through it all, more about the plight of young blacks in a torrid period of our nation’s history is revealed.

This film will garner best picture, best director, best adapted screenplay and best supporting actress nominations over the next six weeks. The movie’s visual ferocity and powerful storytelling inspire passion from viewers like few films can. 

“If Beale Street Could Talk” is in limited theaters on Dec. 14 and goes wide release on Christmas Day. One of the finest stories of the year, we’ll be hearing a lot more about this profound experience well into next year. 

Grade: A

“If Beale Street Could Talk” is rated R with a running time of 2 hours.

Patrick King is a resident of Tucson and writer for the Reel Brief movie blog at reelbrief.com. Email him at reelbriefmoviereviews@mail.com.

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