Urban Cinefile
"I've shocked myself, I didn't think I had it in me "  -Michael Clarke Duncan on his role in The Green Mile
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Monday June 15, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



In the Virginia of 1935, the once prosperous Dabney family has fallen on hard times. Vernon Dabney (Harvey Keitel) is reduced to running moonshine to support his large family. Paul (Scott Terra) is the son of a wealthy couple, but is best friends with the youngest Dabney, Little Mole (Daniel Treat) and has to spend a few days with them while his parents attend a funeral. As the two boys play marbles in the yard, a 99 year old former slave, Shadrach (John Sawyer), appears. He's walked from Alabama, knowing his days are nearly over, to die on Dabney land; as he was once "their" slave. Trixie (Andie MacDowell) takes an immediate shine to Shadrach and, over Vernon's objections, convinces him to take Shadrach to the old Dabney plantation so Shadrach can fulfill his last wish.

"Shadrach is a beautifully complex masterpiece that has resonances with the likes of Grapes of Wrath. This is very much Steinbeck territory. What an exquisite, beautifully crafted gem this is, a film about a 99-year old black man who teaches, with utter simplicity, that death is not something to fear, only life. Creating 1930s Depression-era America, director Susan Styron gives us, in just a few minutes of screen time, a wonderful contrast between the two classes of American society living in a harsh era, and dealing with it in unique ways. The film's protagonist, Vernon Dabney, is a tough character who has learnt to survive through cunning and instinct, as his severe poverty allows. On the one hand, he bitterly resents that Shadrach's plight may cost him money, and cries out, with profane bitterness, against the political injustices of his time. Harvey Keitelís performance is captivating, multi-layered and powerful. As the quietly spoken, beer-drinking, sexy den mother of sorts, who acts as a quiet contrast to her often-blustering husband, MacDowell gives her most astonishing and meticulously realised performance to date. Under the sharp, well-observed direction of the talented Susan Styron, Shadrach is an exquisite, detailed drama, beautifully made."
Paul Fischer

"Walt Whitman once wrote 'America does not repel the past or what it has produced...'. In Shadrach, director Susanna Styron also confronts America's past and what it has produced. This deceptively simple and often funny tale (written by her Pulitzer Prize winning father William Styron) allows her to examine racism, loss, dignity, and redemption. Unlike some other films of its ilk, Shadrach does so with subtle nuance rather than heavy-handed rhetoric. Comparisons with Robert Mulligan's To Kill a Mockingbird are inevitable - both use the viewpoint of a child to tell a story examining racism in the Jim Crow South of the 1930's. But Shadrach has a strength of vision to stand on its own and render such comparisons largely meaningless. The film has a wonderful texture that envelops the viewer. Central to its success are brilliant performances from Harvey Keitel, Andie MacDowell and John Sawyer. Keitel seems to simply get better with age and his multi-layered performance as Vernon is something to behold. Resonant with meaning, Shadrach is a genuinely rewarding film. It'll probably have a limited release in this country, so see it if you get the chance. Lyrical and beautiful, it's one of those minor masterpieces that comes along all too rarely."
David Edwards

Email this article


Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

See Paul Fischer's interview with director SUSANNA STYRON


CAST: Harvey Keitel, Andie MacDowell, John Franklin Sawyer, Scott Terra, Daniel Treat, Monica Bugajski, Darrell Larson, Deborah Hedwall, Tom Bower, John Sawyer, Martin Sheen

DIRECTOR: Susanna Styron

PRODUCER: John Thompson, Boaz Davidson

SCRIPT: Susanna Styron, William Styron, Bridget Terry (based on short story by William Styron)


EDITOR: Colleen Sharp

MUSIC: VanDyke Parks


RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 29, 1998 Sydney only; (Perth Nov 12; other states to follow)

© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020