Hope and healing wait at the end
of a big-hearted musical road trip
September 7, 2011
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Starring Michael Clark Duncan
& Morgan Simpson
In Hollywood-speak, a “road movie” is one in which the plot builds around a journey or some sort. The format is a common thread that unites otherwise unrelated films such as “Smokey and the Bandit,” “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure,” “Apocalypse Now” and even “The Wizard of Oz,” which unfolds along a road paved with yellow bricks.
So when the characters in the new “Redemption Road” hit they highway, they’re following a long, winding trail of time-honored movie tradition.
As in many road movies, its two sojourners are---at least at first---unlikely traveling companions. Jefferson Bailey (Morgan Simpson), a failed blues guitarist, is white, alcoholic and so unsure of himself he can’t get back on stage. Augy (Michael Clark Duncan), who’s black, is a clean and sober mountain of muscle, confidence and self-control who loves country line dancing, big women and spit-polishing his beloved pickup truck.
Circumstance puts them together on a cross-country trip.
There are, of course, bumps on the highway. Bailey is being pursued by a shady business associate (Luke Perry) intent to extract in blood the debt Bailey can’t repay in cash. He’s haunted by the loss of his father, an itinerant blues musician killed years ago by a drunken driver. And he’s got some emotional baggage with an old girlfriend (Kiele Sanchez), who’s moved on with her life after Bailey left her behind.
As the title suggests, there’ll be hope and healing at the end of this road.
Director Mario Van Peebles sets story into some gorgeous Southern ruralscapes (with Tennessee subbing for both Texas and Alabama), and he handles the music at its core as almost a character itself. Several scenes take place in blues clubs, one of which is owned by the generous, wise Santa (Tom Skerritt), Augy’s mentor.
There are several performances by real-life blues musicians. An old guitar factors significantly (and emotionally) into the plot. At one point, a hung-over and battered Bailey stumbles into a church service alive with song.
“Redemption Road” is a “small” movie, filmed on a modest budget with no big stars. It’s bit hokey, sappy and slow. But it’s got a big, warm soul, a stirring tale to tell, and a powerful message about forgiveness and spiritual renewal, all tapped into a rich vein of authentic music that’s much more than just a background element.
As the lettering on the tailgate of Augy’s pickup notes, “Love will set you free.” It’s a cliché, but it’s a theme this well-crafted little road movie takes tunefully to heart.
--Neil Pond, American Profile