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James Earl Jones Shines in Noble Performance,
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This review is from: Cry, The Beloved Country (DVD)
Darrell Roodt chose carefully when it was time to direct the first film of South Africa after the abolition of Apartheid. Alan Paton's novel was first filmed in 1951, and "Cry the Beloved Country" is a tale that seems as much a part of the South African collective zeitgeist as Twain or Hemingway or Steinbeck is part of America's.
This film version is centered around perhaps James Earl Jones' most powerful screen performance. He stars as the Reverend Stephen Kumalo, a clergyman from a small town in South Africa. He is a strong man of faith and leads a congregation in matters both religious and practical. His son ran away to Johannesburg to work in the mines, and his sister went away also to join her husband. His brother, John, is also in the city, an outspoken black activist who has abandoned the ways of religion because religion is not creating justice for blacks. The film opens with Reverend Kumalo receiving word that things are not all well in Johannesburg.
Richard Harris has the role of James Jarvis, a wealthy white landowner from the same small town. His son has also gone to Johannesburg, where he works as an activist trying to improve the repressed condition of the South African Blacks who are only starting to come under the evil thumb of Apartheid.
The whites and blacks are so separate that although they are two of the most prominent figures in a small town, Mr. Jarvis and the Reverend Kumalo have not even met as the movie opens. Tragedy strikes, more than once, and without spoiling the plot I'll just reveal that it involves the two sons of these two characters.
Roodt goes out of his way to display the noble suffering of Reverend Kumalo. He never speaks a discouraging word, even when confronting terrible injustice. The story hinges on Kumalo's innate goodness, and Mr. Jones brings this to life in a way that carries the story along.
It is worth mentioning a single scene - the one in which Kumalo and Jarvis first meet. The previously mentioned tragedy has already occurred and both men are in a kind of mourning. Kumalo knows Jarvis while Jarvis vaguely recognizes Kumalo. The Reverend confides in the powerful white man that "My greatest sorrow is also your greatest sorrow". The performances by these two great actors in this powerful scene would be reason alone to watch this film, but I would still recommend the movie with that centerpiece scene removed.
It is clichéd to say that the world would be a better place if we were collectively more understanding and tolerant of those who were different from us, but "Cry the Beloved Country" brings this sentiment forward in a way that is realistic and powerful.