Last week a small independent film from Magnolia Films surprised us all after it debuted in the top ten on less than five hundred screens with little to no major publicity. So there has to be something about this film that brought the masses out to view it, right? Well if there was, I sure didn’t see it. Woman Thou Art Loosed is no more impressive than a Lifetime original motion picture.
Michelle Jordan (Kimberley Elise) is troubled young girl sitting on death row awaiting her execution. Her request to speak to the Bishop T.D. Jakes is granted, and the Bishop tries his best to spiritually consult and understand why Michelle did what she did. She tells the Bishop her story starting with the day she first got out of prison up until the murder she committed. At first Michelle was beginning to clean up. She was off drugs, living in a halfway house, attending a three-day religious revival, and sparking up an old flame from her childhood (Michael Boatman). All was well and good until she’s haunted by her past. Drug dealers and pimps coax her back into old ways while her ignorant, and “saved”, mother (Loretta Divine) continues to turn a blind eye to the actions of boyfriend Reggie (Clifton Powell). Over the course of Michelle’s confession, we begin to understand what led her to kill, and more importantly who exactly she killed.
This film was way too tame. It’s based off the novel by Bishop T.D. Jakes, who appears as himself in the movie. But if ever a film ached for just one four letter word, it’s this one. The storyline is such that when Michelle, or even when drug dealers and pimps, get enraged they hold back. Where are the expletives? I don’t have a problem with working around language as such, but the story cried out for it. If you had a child that was raped by a loved one, you mean to tell me that when you confront that person you wouldn’t curse his ass out? Having dialogue that’s so weak makes all the lines come off as blatantly written. It may look good on paper, but I’m sorry, people curse... especially in prison. I’m surprised screenwriter Stan Foster hasn’t learned that since his days writing and producing the short-lived television series “Homeboys in Outer Space”.
Director Michael Shultz, the mastermind behind such cinematic epics as Car Wash and Krush Groove, chose a very confusing way to tell this story. The flashback element is understandable, but what I didn’t get were these little reality show like confessions some of the characters had with the camera. At first I thought maybe it had do with the characters talking about Michelle after her execution or something, but that narrative went nowhere. And instead of a traditional fade out ending, or even a basic “The End”, what we get is a way too confusing ending and a plug for the movie’s website. The ending was just too mysterious for a film of this nature. Does Michelle actually get executed, or does she get out? They leave you hanging; all they show is an empty cell and a little house she made of sticks. What the hell?
On the performance front, Kimberly Elise does a pretty good job with what she has to do but the material is just far too (for lack of a better term) preachy for her to really get any recognition. If this were a Lifetime or TNT movie then maybe in that smaller pond she’d get some notoriety, but theatrically is a whole different story all together. Elise has done some pretty good supporting work opposite Denzel Washington in the past, twice. In the ensemble dramas John Q and The Manchurian Candidate she does an excellent job fitting in with the likes of many extraordinary actors. In Woman Thou Art Loosed, she carries the film and like John C. Reilly in Criminal it just doesn’t quite seem right.
This isn’t a bad movie; it’s just watered down. The result is a botched attempt at making a real dramatic impact. With a better script - with less involvement from the book’s author - and maybe even a new director, Woman Thou Art Loosed could’ve been a sleeper contender for a bunch of Oscars. It’s a shame to see something with such potential come off so bland.
Was last week’s surprise really worth hunting down? Not really. I’m guessing the book’s and/or the Bishop’s fan base/followers had something to do with it making money. Skip it, the box office totals are a fluke. Wait for the real Oscar bait to come your way over the next two months.
Reviewed By: Bill Beyrer