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Heavens Fall

4.3 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Heavens Fall

“Heavens Fall” is a gripping true story that begins in the spring of 1931 when nine black men are hauled off an Alabama freight train and accused of raping two young white women. The men are quickly tried and sentenced to the electric chair. News of their conviction spreads, forcing an appeal to the United States Supreme Court. New York attorney Sam Leibowitz (Timothy Hutton) travels to Alabama in 1933 during segregation to defend the nine young men - setting in motion an epic legal battle that ultimately changed the course of American jurisprudence.

Winner of the “Best Feature Film” Award at the Hollywood Film Festival and an official selection of SXSW, “Heavens Fall” features knockout performances from Timothy Hutton (“Kinsey”), Anthony Mackie (“The Hurt Locker”), Leelee Sobieski (“Eyes Wide Shut”) and David Strathairn (“Good Night, and Good Luck”).

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One of the most shameful chapters in America's ugly racial history is dramatized in writer-director Terry Green's Heavens Fall, an account of Alabama's infamous "Scottsboro Boys" trials in the 1930s. As the film opens (in '33), nine young black men have already been convicted and sentenced to death for the rape of two white girls, based almost entirely on the girls' dubious testimony. When an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court results in a new trial, New York defense lawyer Sam Leibowitz (Timothy Hutton, sporting a thick NY accent) agrees to represent the boys. While he's an unqualified success on his own turf, having never lost a capital case, Leibowitz faces enormous, if not insurmountable, odds once he arrives in Alabama. Not only is he a Northerner among Southerners and a liberal Jew among conservative Christians; the bigger issue, of course, is the South's culture of racism, an ethos so endemic, so matter of fact, that it's almost banal. As the trial of defendant Haywood Patterson proceeds, it's pretty obvious how it will turn out; despite the transparent perjury of accuser Victoria Price (an effectively nasty Leelee Sobieski), the recanting of the testimony of the other "victim," Ruby Bates (Azura Skye), and Leibowitz's skillful dismantling of the prosecution's case (not to mention the almost total lack of actual incriminating evidence), another conviction is as inevitable as the sunrise. Still, there is some occasional shading here amidst all the black and white extremes: the presiding judge, James Horton (a low-key David Strathairn), appears to have a conscience, as does Leibowitz's court adversary, Alabama Attorney General Thomas Knight, Jr. (Bill Sage), who knows his case is weak but is hamstrung by the region's racist "traditions." As it happened, the trial depicted in Heavens Fall (the title comes from the saying "Let justice be done, though the heavens may fall") wasn't the last for the Scottsboro Boys. But this movie, with its period feel enhanced by its excellent cinematography (by Paul Sanchez), costumes, sets, and bluesy musical score (by Tony Llorens), is a compelling slice of a very big but not very tasty pie. Bonus features include two mini-documentaries, one a standard "making of" and the other depicting the filmmakers' struggle to withstand the onslaught of Hurricane Ivan while filming on location in 2004. --Sam Graham

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Timothy Hutton;David Strathairn;Leelee Sobieski ;Anthony Mackie
  • Directors: Terry Green
  • Format: NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: All Regions
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Parents Strongly Cautioned
  • Studio: FilmRise
  • DVD Release Date: November 6, 2007
  • Run Time: 105 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #82,386 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Heavens Fall" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Stanley R. Kaminski on November 8, 2007
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
History comes alive in this well done drama about a racial trial that the outcome of which appeared decided by the jury before the first witness took the stand. Nevertheless, it portrays the players in the legal system as real people who believe they are doing what is right. Persons who like good acting and fine drama will truly enjoy this movie. For full disclosure, I must point out that I was one of many who provided a small portion of the money needed to make this movie. However, it also must be pointed out that this movie won first place in the Hollywood film festival.
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"Heavens Fall" tells the story of the Scottsboro Boys, nine black men who were convicted of raping two white women in Alabama in the early 1930's. New York defense attorney Samuel Leibowitz travels to Decatur, AL to defend the men in a retrial ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Timothy Hutton gives a riveting performance as Samuel Leibowitz - Hutton's best since his equally fine portrayal of Archie Goodwin in "Nero Wolfe." Bill Sage as prosecuting attorney Thomas Knight, Jr. and David Strathairn as Judge Horton are also excellent in their roles. Bill Smitrovich as co-defense attorney, Maury Chaykin in a cameo role, Francie Swift as Leibowitz' wife, Belle, and James Tolkan as Thomas Knight, Sr. (four other great "Nero Wolfe" actors) were exceptional, too, as was B.J. Britt, as Haywood Patterson, in his film debut. LeeLee Sobieski and Azura Skye as Victoria Price and Ruby Bates were marvelous in their extremely difficult roles.

The score by Tony Llorens was haunting - a perfect accompaniment for the plot and the beautiful cinematography by Paul Sanchez.

Nero Wolfe - The Complete Classic Whodunit Series
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I had never heard of this film. Indeed, it received very little publicity or theater time when it was released in 2006. But it was on cable TV last night and I was intrigued by its theme - an historical drama of the second trial of 9 young black men (aged 12 to 19) accused of raping two white women in Scottsboro, Alabama. They were sentenced to death in 1931 but, in a case brought by the International Labor Defense organization to the Supreme Court, the sentence was overturned and a new trial was granted. A New York lawyer, Samuel Liebowitz, joined the Labor Defense team and went down South for the retrial in 1933. This film was about that trial.

I must say I had to refrain myself from running to my computer to research the case because I wanted my experience of the film to be fresh. I'm glad I did that because it added to the tension as I wasn't sure what the outcome would be. The director did a good job of setting the time and the place. The historical detail seemed perfect and the New York attorney reminded me a lot of photos of my own father in the early 1930s. For example, all the men wore hats and shirts and ties.

Most of the film took place at the trial but there was one recurring scene at a diner which showed a young black girl waiting patiently at the back door for an order of food while she is being ignored by the waitress.

The Southerners are not all depicted as bad. In this film the prosecuting attorney and the New York lawyer are staying at the same hotel. The southern lawyer is on track to someday become Governor. He is intrigued by the New Yorker and they sort of bond. But then the trial begins and its no holds barred.

There is also a young black newspaper reporter from Chicago who has come down South for the trial.
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Everybody should know the story of the Scottsboro 9 (you can Wikipedia it). This movie does not tell the whole story and I really have no quibble with it except they should have pointed out that Judge Horton could have dismissed the case for lack of evidence in 1933. If you add up the sentences of the nine boys, later men, it's over 100 years. The last Scottsboro boy incarcerated, Patterson, escaped in 1948 from hard labor on a chain gang, out on a road somewhere, just like in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?". All of the Nine were incarcerated, beaten up, shot in the head, etc., for at least six years.

One boy was being transported and got into a scuffle in the car and a deputy shot him in the head. The Communist Party started sending them food and so on. The guards really hated them. At one point they were put in a private prison which had been declared unfit for prisoners because of the rats, bedbugs, etc. No air conditioning in the South at this time, obviously. They also were in a room right next to the death chamber. It would be as if you had a bathroom next to your bedroom and occasionally the guards took someone from your (large) bedroom and fried him in the electric chair in the bathroom, and probably you had heard his story and maybe you thought he was also innocent.

Anyway, Judge Horton's not doing the right thing and dismissing the case is probably glossed over because the movie makers wanted the audience to have a hero. The case ended Judge Horton's career and he was extremely erudite (you can read his written opinion of the case, accompanying his judgment to set aside, in books about the Scottsboro Nine and no doubt online somewhere), so it was a waste. He lived there for 30 more years and he should have been a judge all that time.
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