John Singleton’s Rosewood: A Review by Nate Hill 

John Singleton’s Rosewood is a partly fictionalized, greatly dramatized retelling of one of the largest lynchings and subsequent conflicts in American history. The time is 1923, the place is Rosewood, a small southern town populated largely by African communities. When borderline insane local housewife Fanny (Catherine Kellner) is caught in the midst of a violent sexual fling, a young black man accidentally stumbles upon the scene. Being the crazy bitch she is, she melodramatically pins it on him, inciting the wrath of the town. The real culprit was of course a white dude, played briefly by Robert Patrick before fleeing the county for good. Because of this selfish misdirection, every white man and his mother now wants the boy hung, and it escalates with the speed of a prairie fire until a full scale race war rages through Rosewood. A lone mercenary called Mann (Ving Rhames) happens to be around and lends his quickdraw talents to the townsfolk who are being hunted. The sheriff (Michael Rooker) is somewhat of a pushover, and unable to quell the mob anyway, especially when it’s led by a rabid Bruce McGill, who is scary and then some. The only white boy who has anything but ropes or torches to offer these poor folks is a kindly store owner played by Jon Voight, who shelters a group of them on his property, much to the mob’s anger. Voight’s character is odd; when we meet him he is in heated coitus with one of his shopkeeps, a young African girl. It’s later revealed that she’s afraid of him. Despite this dark piece of his arc, Singleton treats him as a hero, begging the question, were there scenes cut that elaborated on his relationship with her? Such imbalances in tone can be found in the story as well: much of the film is treated with a combination of severe melodrama and true crime drama, speckled here and there with jarring little bits of pulp that feel like they’re from a Django type flick. Wouldn’t have been the narrative mix I would have used, but perhaps Singleton’s hand slipped and too much of an aspect fell in which he only ever meant as a subtle garnish. Nevertheless, it’s very solidly made, wherever it sits on the genre map, with all the actors, particularly the African townsfolk, shining nicely. It’s disturbing as well, with the black body count reaching sickening heights and the racist fever at a vicious spike in temperature. It’s a scary scenario when the hunters greatly outnumber the hunted, and mass deaths are imminent, especially when such anger is involved. Sympathy is earned in spades from the viewer, as well as the urge to look away at least a few different times. I haven’t done my research on the real story so I couldn’t tell you where it falls on the authenticity charts, but I suspect a great deal of it has been exaggerated for effect and impact. In that, it succeeds, if faltering in tone a few times to puzzle the viewer, before getting back on track. 

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