If Beale Street Could Talk

Exclaim! - - FILM - MATT BOBKIN

Di­rected by Barry Jenk­ins

Moon­light di­rec­tor Barry Jenk­ins is about to break our hearts all over again with an­other grip­ping tale of black love. Adapt­ing James Bald­win’s novel, If Beale Street Could Talk charts the re­la­tion­ship of Tish Rivers (Kiki Layne) and Fonny Hunt (Stephan James), lovers torn apart by a racist cop who puts an in­no­cent Hunt in prison while Rivers deals with her preg­nancy. In the age of Black Lives Mat­ter and Trump, Bald­win’s 1974 novel is as rel­e­vant as ever, and Jenk­ins stays faith­ful to the source ma­te­rial for an­other res­o­nant, pow­er­ful en­try to his strong body of work. Jenk­ins’ steady di­rec­to­rial hand and sim­ple styling al­lows the film to sim­ply haunt, pre­sent­ing an all-too- fa­mil­iar re­al­ity and let­ting it linger.

Hop­ping around be­fore and dur­ing Hunt’s in­car­cer­a­tion, Layne and James are the film’s an­chors; their stel­lar per­for­mances run the gamut from doeeyed love to soul-crush­ing heart­break, and both de­liver star-mak­ing turns. The story nav­i­gates be­tween the high of un­bri­dled, re­cip­ro­cated love and the low of be­ing falsely pun­ished for a crime, crushed un­der the weight of seem­ingly un­con­trol­lable fac­tors. But as dev­as­tat­ing as the sub­ject mat­ter is, there’s a pow­er­ful un­der­cur­rent of hope, ten­derly con­veyed. Layne and James’ mul­ti­fac­eted per­for­mances never lose their emo­tional depth, bring­ing forth plenty of warmth and be­lief to the grimmest of scenes. This is what makes Beale Street a vi­tal coun­ter­point to the seem­ingly end­less stream of fraught head­lines that mark to­day’s tu­mul­tuous times. There’s plenty of tragic mo­ments in Beale Street, but Jenk­ins won’t let you call it a tragedy. It’s about hope and love.

Jenk­ins ham­mers these mes­sages home by re­unit­ing with some of the key be­hind-the-scenes con­trib­u­tors to Moon­light’s his­toric Best Pic­ture win in cin­e­matog­ra­pher James Lax­ton and score com­poser Ni­cholas Britell. Lax­ton takes a sim­i­lar head-on, slow­burn­ing ap­proach that again finds the char­ac­ters star­ing deep into the au­di­ences’ souls, but swaps out Moon­light’s oceanic blues and greens for an oaky brown palette. Britell’s score aug­ments the warmth with rich, sweep­ing strings. On all fronts, If Beale Street Could Talk is a tri­umph, car­ry­ing its tragic weight with poise and as­sured­ness. It’s a heart­break­ing look at an all-too-real phe­nom­e­non that looks deeply in­ward to find a lot of joy. (eONE)

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