Son of the South plays it overtly safe
Spike Lee serves as executive producer on his frequent editor's latest project Son of the South from Vertical Entertainment. Director Barry Alexander Brown adapts Bob Zellner & Constance Curry's book The Wrong Side of Murder Creek. Bob Zellner (Lucas Till) is in his light year of college and appears to have it all. He's headed to graduate school with his fiancée Carol Anne (Lucy Hale) and has all of the support of his peers and family. One day, Bob decides that he wants to do a paper on Civil Rights. This leads him to crossing paths with Civil Rights Icons Rosa Parks (Sharonne Lanier), Reverend Ralph Abernathy (Cedric the Entertainer), and Virginia Durr (Julia Ormond).
We soon learn that Bob is the grandson of a Klansman (Brian Dennehy) who doesn't respond kindly to Bob's new found independence and view on life. Before long, Bob decides to follow his own path and joins SNCC, where he eventually becomes the field secretary. Throughout his journey, Bob also begins an intimate friendship with Joanne (Lex Scott Davis) and tries to avoid the wrath of trigger-happy bigot Doc (Jake Abel).
I had heard Bob Zellner mentioned in my early years of education from my elders but didn't know his story's meat. Given that I'm a vast biopic fan and an admirer of Barry Alexander Brown's editing style, I had somewhat high expectations for Son of the South. Lucas Till, known for his work in the X-Men movie and MacGyver reimaging, provides serviceable acting as Bob Zellner. The Texas native naturally sways into the role of an Alabama county boy. Lucas Till portrays Zellner as an everyman from a Christian background who wants to do what's right. I applaud the production team for not using an A-List star for the role, as the casting choice allowed me to identify with the character more.
Concurrently, I also enjoyed seeing Lex Scott Davis on the screen once again. I've been a fan of the actress since she portrayed Toni Braxton in a Lifetime Network movie. Scott Davis has a natural chemistry with Till. The script treats their relationship more organic as opposed to forced. The film's supporting cast is also vital in what equates to cameo roles for well-known historical films. Rosa Parks (Sharonne Lanier) and Reverend Ralph Abernathy (Cedric the Entertainer) appear in the film. However, given that it's not their story, the potential of both is somewhat wasted. Similarly, John Lewis (Dexter Darden), who was actually Bob's mentor and lifelong friend, has maybe a total of ten minutes of screen time, which was surprising.
Furthermore, Lucy Hale's Carol Anne is featured prominently on the poster, but the role is best described as stunt casting. Given Hale's known status, I found her distracting and would have rather seen an unknown cast in the role instead. Thankfully, Jake Abel & Brian Dennehy evoke the right amount of evilness in their bigotry to make up for Hale's miscasting. I also compliment Barry Alexander Brown's editing style during one tense scene where we watch a lunch counter harassment simulation. Brown doesn't hold back in the scene, and it's one of the better moments in the film.
Clocking in at quick 105 mins, Son of the South never rises above TV movie of the week status. Given the previous successful collaborations between Spike Lee and Barry Alexander Brown, I just expected more. Nevertheless, I mildly recommended Son of the South for fans of historical films.
Final Grade: C
Son of the South opens in select theaters Friday, February 5, 2021
In addition, Son of the South will also be available on VOD & Digital