Till Movie Review (Spoiler Free)
The tale of a mother’s love, whose foundation & belief is shattered due to a violent act, starting what is to become a path into activism for the civil rights movement.
Genre: Biography / Drama / History
Director: Chinonye Chukwu
Cast: Danielle Deadwyler, Jalyn Hall, Frankie Faison, Sean Patrick Thomas, Haley Bennett, Tosin Cole, Kevin Carroll, John Douglas Thompson & Whoopi Goldberg.
Run Time: 130 min.
US Release: 28 October 2022
UK Release: 06 January 2023
German Release: 26 January 2023
Being European, my knowledge of US history is very basic. Concerning the civil rights movement, the most prominent names that come to mind are Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, as leaders of the movement to abolish racial segregation. I never stopped to think about all the smaller figures that made a valuable impact on this motion. Neither was I aware of how dire the situation was for African Americans in the south. For that reason, I am thankful for this biopic, having enlightened my knowledge of a crucial period of American history, as well as having displayed one of the more vocal activists of the era!
I haven’t seen the miniseries Women of the Movement, though, I would not compare it either way, as a series has much more time to flesh out its characters.
Till tells the profoundly emotional, shocking real life-story, about Mamie Till-Mobley’s relentless pursuit of justice for her 14-year-old son, Emmett Till, who was lynched while visiting his cousins in Mississippi, in 1955.
First and foremost, let me explain that this is not a biopic about the civil rights activist Mamie Till-Mobley. This is a movie about the pain that a mother suffers when their only child is taken away from them, in a pointless act of violence. I want to underline this point, as I read a couple of complaints that the narrative doesn’t depict her activist path. Director/writer Chinonye Chukwu, together with her co-writers Michael Reilley and Keith Beauchamp, decided to focus on a more personal tale that packed a painful emotional punch!
In my opinion, this was the correct choice, as it makes audiences understand how devastating it is for a mother to lose a kid, especially when it is a brutal racial hate crime. The motivational development from there is well established; Mamie’s first reactions are purely out of anger, then she starts fighting to obtain justice for her boy, which leads in the last couple of minutes to something bigger, as she sees that her pain is shared by thousands of other mothers in the southern states.
The most surprising plot reveal is how much time viewers get to know Emmett before the boy's unavoidable, gruesome ending takes place. That decision had two major benefits! First, audiences got to know Emmett Till a little better; who he was, just like what drove the young teenager. Second, the sentimental impact of what happens next is much bigger.
Something unexpected is how much power the dialogues have. Conversations do not simply carry the emotional pain of a mother, but also a very uncomfortable amount of racial hate. The word “negro” is being thrown around A LOT. Technically a standard Latin term for “black”, it was interesting how much significance we give to a single word, as it made me flinch uncomfortably, every time it was used!
Danielle Deadwyler gives the performance of a lifetime, as the lead Mamie Till! In fact, it is infuriating that Deadwyler did not cut it in the Academy Award nomination for best actress, because she was incredibly believable as this historic figure! Her movements, the ticks of nervousness when she worries about her son’s well-being, or the breakdown when she obtained the terrible news, it was all perfectly rendered by the actress.
Jalyn Hall, who plays Mamie’s son Emmett “Bobo”, gives a great portrayal of the young teen; he is likeable, well mannered, yet a little naive about the workings of the machinations of the world. Emmett seems to be especially confused about racial relationships between African Americans and Caucasians at that time. Hall’s chemistry with Deadwyler is on-point, making for a believable mother-son dynamic.
It was nice to see Sean Patrick Thomas return to film, I haven’t seen him since the terrible Halloween: Ressurection, I believe. He portrays Mamie’s fiance - later future husband - Gene Mobley. The role is a small one, however, Thomas has enough screen time to impress with his acting skills.
Another great performance is given by Haley Bennett, who embodies Carolyn Bryant, the woman who was responsible for what happened to Emmett Till. Bryant is represented as exactly that, a disgusting bigot, liar and racist.
Cinematographer Bobby Bukowski and editor Ron Patane did a great job with the technicalities of camera plus film. The pacing gives scenes enough time to unfold dramatic, heartfelt moments, while dolly zooms are employed to underline the impact of those scenes. At the same time, fade-ins as well as a different mix of cuts are employed, which help tell a coherent story. The colour palette implements contrasting palettes; the background makes use of sterile whites, with desaturated colours, contrary to objects or persons in the foreground, which shine in bright colours, breaking the heavy topic.
Effects are contained, being a real historic event of the fifties. That said, it makes use of a practical doll used as a corps, which looks hauntingly realistic. The set design looks pragmatic, suiting the period it plays in, as do makeup and wardrobe.
Polish composer Abel Korzeniowski, worked on the musical score that emphasises the era of the 1950s, using dramatic plus melancholic tunes. It is a bitter-sweet soundtrack that crawls under one's skin.
Verdict: Chukwu’s biographical movie, is a deep, emotional drama that effectively represents a nation's dark, split history, through the eyes of a mother, who paid the ultimate sacrifice. It is painful, unapologetic and uncomfortable, yet one of the most powerful biopics I have seen! The screenplay is masterfully written, focused on the intimate relationship between mother and son, as well as the lengths that a mother will go to if that bond is taken by someone. Emmett’s story deserves more attention because in no way, should a fourteen-year-old boy have ever been subjugated to such torture, simply because of the colour of his skin! The performances are all through the roof, the cinematography is restrained to not interfere with the screenplay, though it represents the period it plays in well. The score gives this true tale more weight. Till might be an uncomfortable watch, infuriating watch but it is necessary! A must-watch that obtains an 8.5 out of 10.
Have you seen Till already? If not, I can only recommend you go see it in theatres. Be warned, however, bring tissues with you! It is heartbreaking & infuriating!