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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Shawn Reviews Salli Richardson-Whitfield’s Pastor Brown


I was looking forward Pastor Brown. As a Salli Richardson-Whitfield fan I’ve been anticipating this movie ever since it was announced several years ago. I know it came on Lifetime a few years ago, but me being out of work and having no cable I had to wait a little longer to catch it. When I heard it was finally on DVD I had get a copy to go along with all the other Salli Richardson movies I own.

And Pastor Brown does not disappoint. The movie has a great premise, a solid supporting cast, strong production values and a great performance by Salli Richardson Whitfield. This is one well-made film that definitely deserved a theatrical release.

Pastor Brown starts off with a great opening act featuring the Reverend Joe Brown giving a sermon at Atlanta’s Mount Olive Church and having a heart attack in the middle of preaching. This inciting incident sets up a compelling story. On his deathbed Joe requests that his daughter Jessica take over for him.  Only one problem: Jessica “Jesse” Brown is a stripper and a woman of ill repute estranged from her family.

On the journey towards finding her shoes she runs into obstacles and stumblingblocks, but eventually reconnects with her family and re-establishes her relationship with God. The ending is a bit of a surprise, but when one examines Jessie’s actions she does follow The Word of God to the letter and practices the faith her father wanted her to preach. That’s what’s really great about Pastor Brown we see the difference between a hearer of the Word and a doer of the Word. Jessie while a woman of ill repute tries to practice what her family and the members of the congregation preach.

Pastor Brown is a compelling tale of the prodigal daughter who finds her faith and her family. And there’s a lot I loved about this movie. There’s a great story here about faith, forgiveness and family. I really liked this film because it showed some of the most balanced pictures of Christian life. Instead of one-dimensional “perfect” infalliable “super good” people like we get in most Christian films, Pastor Brown shows us imperfect multidimensional people who struggle with their feelings and emotions and get tempted. They get angry, they get upset, and they hurt. They show us how human they are in their walk with Christ and how their relationship with God helps them overcome their human frailties and keep them from sin.

The Production values on this film are high; there’s a lot I love about this movie from a cinematic standpioint. A lot of the cinematography and the camera work on Pastor Brown are top notch. There are a lot of great shots in this film that tell great stories. The opening scene at the church with Joe Brown and scenes at the hospital are some of the best I’ve seen in a Black film in years. I especially love the scene of the plain dressed Jesse when she goes to the wake with all the well-dressed church members. That scene had great contrast and told a powerful story with pictures. It’s rare that I see filmmakers use artistic techniques like this in Black films and seeing these kinds of shots makes me smile.

I only have two issues with Pastor Brown. The first is the screenplay. While the story is compelling, and there’s a nice amount of depth and layers and nuance in it, the story is a little uneven in places. And I felt some of the scenes could have been developed a little better so the sequences of the film could have flowed a little smoother. But that’s the screenwriter in me. After ten years at the keyboard writing scripts I tend to notice those little things.

In some areas of Pastor Brown some of the dialogue is a bit awkward, and some of the relationships between the characters is a bit underdeveloped. Again, that’s the screenwriter in me; it doesn’t impede my enjoyment of this film in any way shape or form.

My other issue with Pastor Brown is the editing. There are several transition scenes that are uneven and don’t tell enough story. These few sequences could have tightened up the story and made the story flow a bit more smoothly. I believe if this script had gotten another revision and another polish and a few more transition scenes added the film would have been perfect.

On the acting side, the entire cast in Pastor Brown is strong and everyone gives a solid perfomance. There’s a lot of passion and heart in the acting in this film and the actors strong acting often overcomes many of the weaker scenes in the script. It’s the little things everyone does with facial expressions and body language that make this story come alive and Director Rockmond Dunbar shows he has great skill in motivating his actors in every scene he directs them in.

Salli Richardson-Whitfield commands the screen in one of the strongest performances of her career. She leads the cast through the film from first frame to last. In between I Will Follow and Pastor Brown Richardson-Whitfield shows she is a leading lady with range, depth and heart.

Keith David gives one of his stron the screen in the short time he’s onscreen as Pastor Joe Brown. From the inciting incident to his final moments onscreen he’s a powerful force. David shows a great range in this film in his brief time onscreen, from a powerful pastor in the pulpit to a loving and caring father.

Ernie Hudson gives a strong performance as Deacon. He shows a great acting range as a loving friend who supports both the pastor and his daughter. There’s a lot of heart in his performance. Michael Beach is rock solid as Assstant pastor. There were moments where I actually felt the spirit coming from him. From his body language to his speech patterns he had me believing he was a minister!  And Nicole Ari Parker does a spectacular job conveying all the character flaws in Jessie’s perfect sister. I’d have to say this is one of the best performances so far. And Dondre T. Whitfield is great as Jesse’s boyfriend. In the short time he’s onscreen he shows range in comedy and drama.

However, The biggest scene stealer for me was Tisha Campbell-Martin. It’s rare to see her in a dramatic role and in the short time she’s onscreen she shows great range. The entire cast needs to take a bow, everyone is absolutely great here.  

Overall, Pastor Brown is a rock solid film with a compelling story, great acting and soild direction. I highly recommend you pick up this film on DVD. This is the kind of film I’d like to see more Black filmmakers produce, a story with balanced humanized images of African-Americans and a rich multidimensional story.

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