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  • Writer's pictureJames McCleary

Till // Film Review

There is a scene early in Till which ends with Mamie Till-Bradley on the ground, fainted. It’s the kind of moment we expect from films like these, historical tragedies which platform grief in performances canned and labelled “tour de force”.

Till is not that kind of film, and Danielle Deadwyler is not giving anything as singular a performance. Instead, she takes this initial image of a woman collapsed in the arms of her family, and makes it the bedrock of her battlefield. Mamie Till-Bradley does not have the luxury of grief; her son is Emmett Till, a 14-year-old martyr in the American Civil Rights Movement, and a boy whose tragedy does not end with the identifying of his body.

Early and often, Mamie is instructed to be impeachable; any sign of weakness will be picked apart by the white vultures circling her day and night. As a result, the film’s drama plays out largely across Deadwyler’s muted face; her muffled pain at odds with a burning drive for change.

Nearly every scene is told through these eyes; every frame not of her face is a wide in direct contrast with it, constantly cutting back to an expression seconds from cracking. In some cases, establishing shots are done away with entirely; Mamie’s testimony at trial is told in one unbroken take, first to the prosecution chasing hopeless justice and then to the defence, who barely need to try.

The effect is a devastating achievement in empathy, demonstrating exactly how the pain of a single woman can become of a community and nation, all without action and with barely a raised voice. Deadwyler is flawless as a martyr and just flawed enough as a mother, and if the film has a weakness it is only that none of the other actors can reach her level of sheer and sustained pain.


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