Kings of the Evening


Kings of the Evening

Linara Washington discovers how fine Tyson Beckford can look.

(2010) Drama (Indiecan) Tyson Beckford, Lynn Whitfield, Glynn Turman, Linara Washington, Reginald T. Dorsey, James Russo, Bruce McGill, Steven Williams, Clyde Jones, Lou Myers, Willard E. Pugh, Justin Meeks, Terrence Flack. Directed by Andrew P. Jones

When times are hard, sometimes the only things that sustain us are our own sense of self-worth. Even the best of us can use a boost of self-confidence every now and again.

In the Great Depression, the African American community was hit harder than most. Already struggling for employment, jobs have become even scarcer and some have resorted to crime just to put food on the table. Homer Hobbs (Beckford) just got paroled from a chain gang after having stolen some worn tires. He ambles into town looking for work and a place to stay and not having very much money for either. He meets up with Benny (Dorsey), a bit of a dandy and a hustler who promises him work and a place to stay for a fee.

Benny is as good as his word; he hooks up Homer with work in a quarry and lodging at the boarding house of Gracie (Whitfield), a no-nonsense lady who is just hanging on by the skin of her teeth. The only other boarder who’s got steady employment is Lucy (Washington) who works as a seamstress and is trying to save up enough cash to open her own dress shop.

Putting a crimp in that is a loan shark (Russo) who wants to collect debts owed by Lucy’s ex-husband and is willing to do whatever it takes to force poor Lucy out of her hard-earned cash. Homer becomes sweet on her nearly immediately.

Also living in the boarding house is Clarence (Turman), a gentleman relying on a long-delayed government relief check that has yet to arrive. His desperation and plummeting self-confidence (and feelings of being a failure) are driving him to the edge of doing something drastic.

Keeping them together is a men’s fashion show hosted every Friday night. To the winner goes the princely sum of five dollars and the title “King of the Evening.” When there’s not a whole lot to look forward to, this becomes a central driving force for most of the men because, as the master of ceremonies proclaims, “If a man can stand up to the mirror, he can stand up to anything.”

While the cast is full of unfamiliar names (Beckford is a former male model who is just now crossing over into the acting realm), it does a pretty stellar job, particularly the veterans Turman as a man hanging on by a thread to his dignity and Whitfield as the practical but harried boarding house owner. Beckford and Washington also make a fine couple with plenty of chemistry and Dorsey provides additional spice.

Jones does a fine job of re-creating the Depression – not just in the look of the film but also in the tenor. The feeling of desperation, despair and of lowered self-worth – all captured beautifully, as well as the camaraderie of people rowing together in the same leaky boat. While some might look at this as a movie aimed primarily at African-American audiences, I found it to carry a lot of universal truths. The pacing may have been a bit slow and there isn’t much in the way of action – even the confrontation with the loan shark is low key – but still in all, not a complete sin.

That’s not to say that the experience of being an exploited minority doesn’t play heavily into the story here. Certainly there are racial overtones that wouldn’t exist for a white cast, although Jones suggests that the heavier prejudice is more class-oriented than ethnic-oriented, a point that is well-taken. He does give all of the characters a goodly amount of dignity, although Washington’s Lucy is a bit shrill at times (which is understandable given her background – Lucy’s that is).

This is a movie that sat on the shelf for years while it was shuffled about from one indie distributor to another before getting a microscopic release and quickly being slotted into home video. Sometimes, there are good reasons why a film doesn’t get the kind of release it deserves. Here, I think distributors didn’t see a cast they could sell and figured that this would get only a niche audience – African Americans into art films. I think they sold the movie short.

WHY RENT THIS: A great sense of place and time. Nice performances evoke the desperation of the period.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: This might be a bit too slow-moving and low-key for some.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a little bit of foul language and a smidgeon of violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Glynn Turman was once married to soul legend Aretha Franklin.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $99,270 on an unreported production budget; it appears that the movie was a flop.

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

TOMORROW: MacGruber