'Sounder' Review: Down South
Sounder seems like a film I should have known about. When I was assigned to review it, it was the first I had heard of it. I was given the impression that either due to my own ignorance or anyone else’s, the movie could be some sort of forgotten gem that got lost in the canons of film history. After all, coming out in the same year as The Godfather can be tough, given that movie overshadowed just about everything else. But is Sounder really any good? Yes, it may not exactly be a great movie (at least in my opinion), but it is a little gem.
Sounder takes place during the depression-era Louisiana, focusing on the Morgan family. They can barely get by, but they’re happy. But then, the father ends up being convicted to a prison camp for stealing food. Months go by, and the family starts to fall apart as the older children struggle with more responsibilities. Finally, the mother decides to send the oldest son to visit him and so begins the coming-of-age adventure of David Lee Morgan.
Sounder feels like it realistically portrays what it must have been like to live Louisiana back in the times of the depression. Everything feels true and authentic, you can almost feel the tall grass and the sun. Adding to the authenticity is the great acting by well, everyone. The children and the parents bring perfect, naturalistic performances.
For better or worse, the narrative and plot of the film are a little murky. It’s more of a character piece, watching the characters go on with their lives in the face of tragedy. But there’s enough conflict and there is enough love for the characters that we care about them, and what they go through. Maybe the lack of a better-formed plot is what the film less effective for me, but that kind of story can still work fantastically. Still, surely the film may feel too slow for some but it’s never boring, and that’s the most important thing. In fact, there are many surprising and heartbreaking moments. This movie truly does stir the heart.
Many reviews refer to Sounder as a family film, and it is. But unlike so many children’s movies of today, it’s far from sanitized. The movie makes no hesitations in portraying the harsh conditions of poverty and racism, but that only makes the sweet moments all the more sweet. There’s enough to make it feel real, but not so much that the film could be made hard to watch. If only films could still be like this.
Overall, Sounder is a good film that’s waiting to be rediscovered. There’s a sweet, moving story at the center with a message that I’m sure many will relate to and pass on to others. Just go in mind that despite it’s rather short running time, the movie may feel slow but I doubt you will be bored by it.