Picks and Pans Review: Our America
You'd expect a TV movie about radio journalism to be stronger on words than pictures. But director Ernest Dickerson (Strange Justice) gives this film a striking look to go with its powerful, fact-based story about a pair of teenagers who created two National Public Radio documentaries on life in a Chicago neighborhood plagued by poverty, violence and drugs.
When Lloyd Newman (Brandon Hammond) and LeAlan Jones (Roderick Pannell) tape interviews, Dickerson switches from color to black-and-white photography, capturing stark images of human beings in pain. Most memorable are the scenes in which the boys record the thoughts of family members, such as Lloyd's alcoholic father (Gene Mack) and LeAlan's mentally ill mother (Djanet Sears in a brief but extraordinary performance).
The drama has weak moments, especially the abrupt cessation of hostilities between the young reporters' producer-mentor (Josh Charles, late of Sports Night) and their school principal (Vanessa Williams from the Soul Food series). But it successfully commands our attention to the ongoing urban struggle of hope against blight.
Bottom Line: Stop, look and listen