After a strong start, well-meaning Civil Rights drama ‘Till’ becomes too strident and self-righteous for its own good

Making her point: Danielle Deadwyler plays a grieving mother in the period drama ‘Till’.

TILL ** (131 minutes) M
While Till dearly wants to deliver us a solid Civil Rights drama about a comprehensively horrific historical incident that occurred at a time when racism was part of the ether the film stumbles after a very strong opening as its self-righteousness gets in the way of the story.

Set in 1953 Mississippi the film, written and directed by Chinonye Chukwu, recounts the murder of Emmett Till (Jalyn Hall), a young black lad who visits the small town of Money with some relatives where he makes the mistake of complimenting the beauty of Carolyn Bryant (Haley Bennett), the white owner of a shop frequented by blacks who takes grave offense.

Racism is part of the ether in this corner of Mississippi and soon the promising young man is identified by Bryant and taken away by local thugs who beat him beyond recognition before dumping his body in a river.

We then follow his grieving mother Mamie Till-Bradley (Danielle Deadwyler) who teams up with local organizations in a crusade for justice over the killing.

The film does a very good job evoking the depth of racial prejudice at the time, especially with the workings of the lopsided legal system, and features a strong lead performance from Deadwyler.

Unfortunately, as well-intentioned as the film is, Till becomes consumed with its own self-righteousness as it goes from being a moving drama to a strident, obvious and rather drab polemic.

At 130 minutes and with its focus almost totally on one side of the story, the film gradually loses its grip on what could have been a compelling narrative. It ends up being very heavy going, even wearying as it hammers home big emotional points with overdone dialogue and overlays of melodramatic music.

This is most evident in the final stretch as the film verges on political grandstanding, highlighting how sometimes understatement is more effective than the tub-thumping on show here.

A major pity is that the film doesn’t pull focus on the aftermath of the trial. You read the startling closing captions and wonder, “where’s this movie?”

It’s also regrettable how all the white characters in the story, horrible humans that they are, appear as mono-dimensional, easily disposable stereotypes.

By relegating them to the sidelines the film loses a lot of its potential punch. Consequently, while the film shows the impact of racism it doesn’t offer any real insights or understanding of the racist mindset.

A telling point of contrast is the underrated 2018 film Burden. Written and directed by Andrew Heckler and starring Tom Wilkinson, the film dared to take us into a family devoted to the Ku Klux Klan, thus doing a far more effective job of condemning the heinous nature of racism by bravely portraying them as three-dimensional characters rather than easily digestible stereotypes.

If only the drama of Till had that sort of edge and daring; drawing more focus on Carolyn Bryant, for instance, would have allowed an exploration into how racial prejudice becomes so deeply embedded in a community. As it is we only see in glimpses a character arguably as interesting as Mamie.

Chances are the film will unspool better once it hits the stream, when you’ll be able to pause for a rest break during the second hour.