A family of black sharecroppers experiences a bout of
hardship when the patriarch is imprisoned for stealing food.
Directed by Martin Ritt
Written by Lonne Elder III
Starring Cicely Tyson, Paul Winfield, Kevin Hooks,
Janet MacLachlan, Carmen Mathews
Based on the novel by William H. Armstrong
Oscar Nominations - Best Picture, Best Actor (Paul Winfield),
Best Actress (Cicely Tyson), Best Adapted Screenplay
Sounder is one of the strangest films I've seen in a while, mostly because it doesn't feel like a complete film. It feels like the build-up to a story we will never get. There actually was a sequel in 1976, but it was entirely unconnected. Sounder follows a black sharecropping family in the Depression-era South as they struggle to make do while the father serves time in a prison camp for stealing food. The thing is, though, we don't see any struggle. There's almost no conflict in this movie, though much conflict is teased and set up with no payoff.
Rebecca (Tyson) and her husband Nathan Lee (Winfield) are doing their best to provide for their children. Nathan gets arrested for stealing food, and the family can't find where he was sent. But then he just wanders home one day a year later with a limp, and everything's okay. Their dog Sounder, whom the film is named after for some reason, is shot and vanishes, but then he wanders home a few weeks later and everything's okay. The racist sheriff doesn't like them, but he never shows up again and everything's okay. You noticing a theme here? The conflict resolution is so damn quick, we don't have any time to get invested in anything.
Sounder sports some good performances, but that's about it. There's this inescapable "movie of the week" quality to it that really drags it down. It had no business being up for Best Picture that year, and I can't imagine anyone who would take something of significance away from this fairly insincere drama.