A Fox produced TV movie, Redemption follows hot on the heels of Ray’s DVD release as another Jamie Foxx starring biopic. With these titles and Collateral it seems as though he has firmly turned his back on such lightweight fare as Booty Call, and certainly his role here is far from flimsy. He plays Stan “Tookie” Williams, founder of the L.A. gang the Crips and a man placed on death row in 1981 on four counts of murder.
Such a set up may promise a cross pollination of gangland and prison flicks with all their attendant machismo and violence, but there’s a clue in the title as to the film’s true intentions. Indeed, though these latter elements necessarily play a minor part, Redemption is a film about exactly that. The main events as far as the filmmakers are concerned are not those in Williams’ past, but those of his later “career” as an author of educational books for children and a Nobel Peace Prize nominee. What we get then is a film which goes in the opposite direction; as with many a TV movie, Redemption is about the triumph of good over evil.
In this respect the filmmakers set themselves up to certain accusations - Williams’ crimes, for example, are mentioned almost in passing, as though any dwelling upon them would forfeit any potential sympathy - but Redemption is also far richer than could be imagined. As well as focussing on Williams, Lynn Whitfield plays an author who functions as a framing device to his story. Initially setting out to record his exploits, she soon befriends her subject and becomes his confidant. What’s interesting about this is that not only does it provide some extra narrative threads, but also allows her to act as an editorial figure. Whenever the flashbacks are in danger of either over-glamorising or over-sentimentalising Williams and his past actions, she’s present to question such directions.
That said, once her role becomes more integral to Redemption, this over-sentimentalising becomes more difficult to avoid, but on the whole Vondie Curtis Hall’s direction proves more than capable. Forget his helming of the deservedly maligned Glitter and instead consider his stints behind the camera on ER, a show on which he also acted and no doubt learnt how to handle multi-layered flurries of activity. Redemption does, however, give him greater stylistic room to manoeuvre and whilst the various techniques (differing film stock, aural rumblings, colour grading) offer nothing new, he does at least never overplay them. If there is a problem then it’s that Curtis Hall does have a slight tendency towards the shorthand (once he decides to better himself Williams miraculously sports a pair of glasses) and over-simplification, though no doubt some of this is the result of compacting a couple of decades worth of material into a 90-minute duration. In this respect, Redemption isn’t perhaps too far removed from Ray - though that film felt far too swift and calculated in its dealing of Ray Charles’ life - though this particular work has an added freshness courtesy of the relative obscurity of its subject.
Perhaps owing to its made-for-television status, Redemption doesn’t look as sleek on disc as we have come to expect from its Hollywood counterparts. Of course, much of the grain is intentional given the stylisation - especially during the flashbacks - yet the film still looks as though it could be just that little bit crisper. Otherwise, there are no technical problems to speak of with the film transferred anamorphically at a ratio of 1.78:1. As for the soundtrack, Anchor Bay provide the usual options of DD2.0, DD5.1 and DTS. In this case, the DD5.1 choice is the original soundtrack, though all three sound crisp and clear. Surprisingly for a dialogue-heavy TVM, the rear channels are more active than not, though those without DTS capability are not missing out on much (indeed, even those who only have stereo capability will be suitably impressed).
Though a number of extras appear, the vast majority disappoint. The major piece here is the commentary by Curtis Hall plus editor Terilyn Shropshire and co-producer Barbara Becnel. Being the same Becnel as portrayed by Whitfield in the film, it is the latter who does much of the speaking. Relating the gaps in the story (and keeping us up to date with Williams’ appeal), much of what she says should be interesting, but it’s unfortunately punctuated by lengthy silences and is rarely scene specific. The presence of the other two, therefore, should have allowed for these silences to be occupied, but they rarely join in (and when they do it is on a frankly dull technical level). Note also that Becnel speaks very loudly, whilst Curtis Hall can barely be discerned.
Much of the remaining pieces focus on the Crips and their legacy. The World’s Deadliest Gangs episode, the interactive map and four-page booklet provide potted histories of the gang and others who occupy L.A. The latter two are understandably a little lightweight, but neither have the bad taste quotient of the former. Previously screened on channel five, this documentary poses as a serious insight into gang culture but largely exists as an excuse to show, re-show and then show again in slow motion numerous examples of camcorder-captured violence and dead bodies. The only other extras are a poor quality trailer, brisk film notes and biographies for Curtis Hall and Foxx.
Unlike the main feature, Redemption’s extras are without optional English subtitles.