Monday, November 19, 2012

Middle of Nowhere - Review


Written & Directed by Ava DuVernay

Produced by Howard Barish, Ava DuVernay, Paul Garnes & Tilane Jones 

Cinematography by Bradford Young

Emayatzy Corinealdi
Omari Hardwick
David Oyelowo
Lorraine Toussaint
Edwina Findley
Sharon Lawrence

Released: October 12, 2012 (USA)

Summary: When her husband is sentenced to 8 years in prison, Ruby drops out of med school in order to focus on her husband's well being while he's incarcerated - leading her on a journey of self-discovery in the process.

Middle of Nowhere is a wonderfully excellent motion picture. Every scene crafted perfectly to show you the loneliness of the lead character Ruby, played with an elegant vitality by Emayatzy Corinealdi. You feel every moment of Ruby’s solitary existence without her husband. Even when she is with her family like her sister, played wonderfully by Edwina Findley, you can feel her loneliness. When she is with her mother, played by the excellent Lorraine Toussaint, you can feel something else. With few words you can tell Mom is not happy with her daughter’s situation, but refuses to really dwell on it…until she is ready to dwell on it. That’s all I’m going to say about that!

Even though there are several supporting characters, this story is all about Ruby. The journey you go along with Ruby is not only through her loneliness, but her resilience in dealing with her husband’s legal case. The phone calls, the visits, the things that are very real in that situation, but not often explored onscreen.

This is a drama so of course there is conflict, but you never feel like it’s over the top. The eventual entanglements that happen throughout the picture feel organic and not forced. There are several revelatory scenes in Middle of Nowhere that are wrought with tension, but never come off as melodramatic. As I stated the performances by Edwina Findley and Lorraine Toussaint are great, but so are those by “Ruby’s men” David Oyelowo, who is building a resume of solid performances and Omari Hardwick in what is probably his best onscreen performance thus far.

Middle of Nowhere is a story featuring an African American woman as its Lead in pretty much every scene. Where do you see that? That’s why I loved Middle of Nowhere, for everything it is, an excellently crafted motion picture and everything it is not, which is pretty much everything else you see in theaters.

This film excelled on many levels that may not seem obvious so allow me to make everything clear.

If I was a critic, and I’m not, the title of this review could have been “Middle of Nowhere: Achievement in Darkness”.  Never have I seen such beautifully photographed dark skinned actors.

Allow me to digress into some filmmaker talk. As an African American filmmaker I’ve always been cognizant about how they photograph (actually film) dark skinned actors. They never ever get it right. (Too much light, not enough light, too much make up, not enough makeup etc.)

Now once I read that the cinematographer would be Bradford Young I kind of knew the characters would be in good hands regardless, but I still didn’t know.

See I saw a film Mr. Young photographed called Restless City at the 2011 Maryland Film Festival.
Still from Restless City
As you can tell from the still above the lead protagonist (right) was a dark skinned actor and he and all the other dark skinned actors were photographed beautifully!

When I saw Middle of Nowhere I was like I know Ms. DuVernay didn’t compose this scene with two dark skinned actors—AT NIGHT! Who has the…guts to do that? Ms. DuVernay and it looked GREAT due to Mr. Young.

Emayatzy Corinealdi as Ruby
The framing of the Lead character Ruby to show her loneliness was also great. You can FEEL Ruby’s loneliness through Ms. DuVernay’s direction, the camera allows you to sit there with Ruby as she is alone and through those shots you feel as alone as she does.

The acting was across the board perfect as well. After only two pictures I’m ready to call Ms. DuVernay the “no histrionics” director. LOL. I didn’t detect a false note in the performances (and I usually can).

The screenplay, like the acting was pitch perfect. There were no scenes that didn’t fit and no story nuance that wasn’t covered. Maybe because I’ve studied screenwriting so long, it was the perfect screenplay. Beat to beat, plot point to plot point and NOT to the point of being predictable. The story was straight forward without a million subplots. Like I said in my review, it’s “all about Ruby”.

Lastly, in this era of tablet computers, flat screens and straight to DVD movies every five seconds, through her distribution company AFFRM (African American Releasing Movement) Ava DuVernay has been committed to getting films shown on the BIG SCREEN, as they should be! (More info about AFFRM linked below)

As I said in my review, “I loved Middle of Nowhere for everything it is, an excellently crafted motion picture and everything it is not, which is pretty much everything else you see in theaters.” and therein lies the brilliance of Ava DuVernay and Middle of Nowhere.

You just don’t see these type of stories on the screen, big or small. Between this and her last film, I Will Follow, Ava DuVernay has managed to bring to the fore stories of black women that you just will not find anywhere in a visual medium. For that reason alone I think she can be called a fresh voice in the chorus of cinema.

Middle of Nowhere: Official Website


Live Tweets of the Feature Commentary of Middle of Nowhere with Writer/Director Ava DuVernay and star Emayatzy Corinealdi

Related Links

Our review of I Will Follow

Read all of our posts about AFFRM

Read all of our posts about Ava DuVernay


Kirk Lazarus said...

Middle of Nowhere kicked ass. It was also refreshing not seeing 50 damn previews before the movie.

AFFRM needs to get their act together. Check out their latest video on vimeo. They want people to pledge money for a wristband? I love when the people that have the means to create want money but won't assist their brothas and sistas! How about a screenplay contest or something to that effect AFFRM!

Dankwa Brooks said...

I hear you Kirk, but they have to raise money in order to operate. Right now they are being funded by one person. Putting films IN THEATERS is not cheap, including the marketing albeit grassroots.

I applaud their efforts and will support them when I get a chance.

Ron Lee said...

Black people have a lot of money. We just need to convince our people to support movies that tell our stories past and especially present. Movies like these are a good start. Congrats to Ava DuVernay.

Dankwa Brooks said...

Word Ron!