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‘Deadline’ is a powerful movie with a conscience

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Once in a while, a movie is made that affects social consciousness and creates a conduit for important change in one’s self, in one’s country. As Robert Kennedy once said: “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

“Deadline” is one of these movies. The movie is inspired by Mark Ethridge’s 2006 book, Grievances, which detailed his reporting for the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer about an unsolved murder of a young African-American in a small South Carolina town. Ethridge also wrote the screenplay for “Deadline” and moved the story from North Carolina to present day Alabama and Nashville.

Directed by Nashville’s Curt Hahn, “Deadline” offers an excellent depiction of the segregated, racist South. It is a murder mystery of the highest sort. The kind that niggles at you in a relentless way and makes you long to know the truth. And even though the core of this story takes place long ago, it brings a new awareness to current hostilities and racist secrets of towns haunted by their past.

“Deadline” focuses on a small town in Alabama with big secrets. Those big secrets cover up the murder of an African-American youth in rural Alabama that has gone unsolved for almost 20 years. In fact, the murder was never really investigated, much less solved. But Matt Harper, (Steve Talley) who is a reporter for the Nashville Times, meets Trey Hall, (Lauren Jenkins), a conscientious rich girl from Alabama who wants to uncover the truth about the murder since their housekeeper, Mary Pell Sampson (Nashville’s Jackie Welch) is the mother of the slain boy, Wallace Sampson (Romonte Hamer).  Despite objections from the Nashville Times publisher, Harper undertakes the investigation and works with his scraggly colleague Ronnie Bullock (Oscar nominee Eric Roberts) to uncover the truth. Along the way, there are violent threats from folks in Alabama who don’t want the story to be told, problems with Harper’s fiancé, Delana Calhoun (Anna Felix) and Harper’s father’s impending death from cancer. Harper’s father, Lucas Harper, is played by J.D. Souther who is a singer/songwriter and was a lyricist for the Eagles.

As for the actors, they are all…well, remarkable. Jackie Welch gives a solid, strong performance as Mary Pell, the elderly woman who harbors one of the biggest secrets of all. Never overly wrought, she displays a calm strength that carries her life’s burdens and heartbreaking pain.

Steve Talley, as the young handsome Matt Harper, is infectious, believable and likeable on the big screen. I predict we’ll see much bigger things from him in the future.

J.D. Souther who plays Lucas Harper, Matt’s father, is stellar in his performance of a dying man with cancer. The story between Matt and his father is actually based on the real-life relationship Ethridge had with his own father, the legendary Louisville Courier-Journal editor, Mark F. Ethridge.

Romonte Hamer, who plays Wallace Sampson in the prologue of the movie, is new to the big screen and is sweet, handsome, poetic, and destined to become a star.

All the actors give outstanding performances and are a credit to this small, indie film.

In a nutshell, “Deadline” aptly portrays the South and all its faults, but it also highlights the South’s ability to rise above its faults and come together in the spirit of justice and humanity. It is a movie about journalistic integrity and the importance of the free press in a world where free speech is not always upheld. It is a movie that has a consciousness – sadly, something that many movies ignore these days.

“Auteur” theory holds that a director’s films reflect personal creative vision as if he or she were the primary “Auteur,” meaning author. From the earliest silent films to contemporary times, motion pictures have crossed over and both entertained and educated the viewing audience. “Deadline” is this kind of movie. Produced by Transcendent, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Nashville’s Film House, it provides a social conduit reflecting and commenting about society and the times. Transcendent produces independent features and inspiring, uplifting films that “speak to the viewer’s heart” and are often overlooked by Hollywood. Since this is an independent film, money has been tight and director Curt Hahn (and head of Transcendent film productions) and Ethridge are launching rolling premieres and partnering with newspapers in markets across the South. Themovie had its first premiere in Nashville on Wednesday in conjunction with The Tennessean, which allowed the movie to be filmed in its newsroom. More than 1,000 people attended the premiere in Nashville this past week, raising $13,000 for Family & Children’s Service.

Before the movie opens nationally on April 13, Hahn and Ethridge will board a bus to crisscross the South, hitting premieres in cities like Memphis, Tennessee; Naples and Tampla, Florida; Dallas, Texas; Atlanta, Georgia; and Columbia, S.C. If the bus rolls into your city, be sure and support this film by going out to see it. You won’t regret it, I promise you.

Whatever you do – wherever you are - do not miss this film. It kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time.  I loved it and you will, too. In fact, the snow has stopped in Nashville and I think I’ll go and see it a second time today.  Everyone, I hope to see you there! I’ll save you a seat!