American Violet comes close, even dangerously so, to falling into a pit of melodrama. Gladys (Pamela Tyson) has been kicked out of her government-funded home for taking a plea bargain from a racist DA. Her friend Dee Roberts (Nicole Beharie), who chooses to fight against the system, sits with Gladys on a swing set.
Gladys is suffering from a heavy cough, which could be a number of things, but is never explained by the film. It exists purely as an added emotional toll, something that has developed since she was kicked out. It gives Dee a reason to fight after her wrongful imprisonment, yet is unnecessary, despite the strong performances.
American Violet is filled with numerous reasons for Dee’s struggle, and the drama here is enough to carry the film. Her four kids with three different fathers, lack of employment, violent ex-boyfriend, and wrongful drug charges are enough to give anyone the will to push back.
Calvin Beckett (Michael O’Keefe) plays the DA with a smug, cocky attitude, a perfect villain. Dee meets him in court while her lawsuit against Beckett (in conjunction with ACLU) is pending. Her ex is suing for custody of her children.
O’Keefe admittedly overplays the scene, a DA so obviously spewing hatred towards everyone, no one would ever elect or believe him. Still, the scene works, building Beckett as a man only in this for show and Dee as a strong single mother figure. Her near outburst against Beckett shows her control, a departure from her outburst earlier in the film.
American Violet suffers from other issues, including flat characters, the worst being Sam Conroy (Will Patton). Despite being a key lawyer in the case, the audience knows little of him beyond his sick wife, and sick with what is also unexplained. Xzibit is the abusive ex-boyfriend, and while the role is powerful in terms of its impact on the story, the character is given marginal depth.
What is important to American Violet is not the side characters or sometimes forced, unnatural, explanatory dialogue. It is the story, one woman’s fight against a broken system, that matters. Dee is developed as a flawed woman, but one who will fight for change. Her message, and the film’s message, is what matters. American Violet delivers it as any true story should.
The film comes to Blu-ray with a fine AVC encode, one that suffers from few problems. The natural grain structure is intact without causing artifacting. Colors are well saturated with warm tones, briefly switching to a colder palette during scenes with the DA. Primary colors can be quite bold.
Black levels are strong while still offering solid shadow delineation. The contrast does run hot sporadically, but is otherwise under control. Sharpness remains firm. Detail is marginal however, lacking definition. Faces are flat, and environments are drab, lacking the rich texture of the best discs on the market.
The opening raid on the complex, with a helicopter flying overhead and screaming family members, is the strongest moment of this DTS-HD mix. All channels are active, and the helicopters blades provide a small low-end kick as they spin.
Extras are sadly thin, including a commentary from director Tim Disney. A brief film festival interview with Disney, Nicole Beharie, and Regina Kelly (the basis for the character of Dee) is far too short to be of any value. Trailers remain.