Review: ‘Gospel Hill’

A memorial service for a martyred civil-rights leader squelches a big development company's scheme.

A memorial service for a martyred civil-rights leader squelches a big development company’s scheme to raze a black community in “Gospel Hill,” vet thesp Giancarlo Esposito’s directorial debut. Despite the best efforts of a veritable galaxy of stars, including Angela Bassett, Samuel L. Jackson, Danny Glover and Julia Stiles, the potentially thought-provoking concept of historical reconciliation is ill served by a half-baked script that reduces every cliched plot point to jaw-dropping levels of preachiness. Aug. 28 Gotham release is unlikely to shed glory on this best-forgotten effort, already out on DVD.

Pic permits no nuance that is not ruthlessly tied to issues of racism and/or personal integrity. Actors invest their characters with a measure of believability within the film’s stubbornly one-dimensional limitations but prove helpless to lift the proceedings out of the realm of unalloyed if well-intentioned corn. Esposito has given himself the most interesting role as a compromised doctor with a slutty, high-maintenance wife who, in cahoots with villainous developers, uses his neighborhood clinic as a springboard for real-estate exploitation. But even he must succumb to a remorselessly uplifting ending that miraculously heals all divisions.

Gospel Hill

Production

An ArtMattan Prods. release of a Future Film Group presentation, in association with Full Glass Films, of a Premiere Picture/Quiet Hand/Deco Entertainment production. Produced by Giancarlo Esposito, Cerise Hallam-Larkin, Emerson Machtus, Freddy Braidy, Scott Rosenfelt, Billie Greif. Executive producers, Michael Parness, Stephen Margolis, Simon M. J. Horsman, Charlotte Koh, Adam Betteridge, David Rogers, Andreas Olavarria, Ronald Kolman, Christopher Mallick, Mark K. Sullivan, Spencer Longmore. Co-producers, Elana Pianko, Stan Erdreich. Directed by Giancarlo Esposito. Screenplay, Jeff Stacy, Jeffrey Pratt Gordon, Terrell Tannen.

Crew

Camera (color/B&W, 16mm), David Tumblety; editor, Tina Pacheco, music, Scott Bomar; production designer, William A. Cimino. Reviewed on DVD, New York, Aug. 21, 2009. (In 2008 Hamptons Film Festival.) Running time: 99 MIN.

With

Angela Bassett, Danny Glover, Samuel L. Jackson, Giancarlo Esposito, Julia Stiles, Adam Baldwin, Tom Bower, Nia Long, the RZA, Taylor Kitsch.

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