Unconditional (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Unconditional (2012)

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

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It sucks when you have to get a message out and you have to compromise. You have a good message, an important message. But to deliver it requires a story broad enough for any audience, since you want to get that damned message out, and that requires looking at what you think people want and doing that too.

That's where compromise can become compromising. Unconditional has wonderful, pointed things to say, but you may never know it because the plot that it's been grafted onto may be, and please excuse my French here, one of the stupidest goddamn things ever written.

What stinks is that plot is so artificial and forced, while there's a great deal of good, touching film playing in the background. And, maybe worse, the addition of the bad plot is that it seems to exist solely to bring the presence of a white person into this film. Because, as the movie making myth goes, no one goes to see a film with an all-black cast.

"Hi. I'm playing the fictionalized version of a real person. I'm also very handsome and very sexy. Why yes, just like real life, I'm sure."

Now usually I try not to dwell on the background creation and details of a film so much since that's more or less immaterial to the completed project, but the final minute of Unconditional reveals the film to be a commercial for community reach-out to at risk kids. This is their pitch, released in a thousand theaters and promoted to any Bible groups that'll listen.

And it's a good cause! Have I mentioned that yet? Kids need all the help they can get. But this movie... this movie just isn't focused correctly. It goes conventional, creating a murder plot line that's overwrought and downright silly, which swerve the structure off the edge of the road.

It's about Sam (Lynn Collins, whose acting here left me surprised that she has not only worked on a major motion picture before, but was in one I've already seen this year), who had her husband randomly murdered a few years prior. Opening up the film, we find that she's completely given up. It's during a thunderstorm, and she pulls out a gun and heads into the alley to do herself in. Already, we're in drama territory so well covered it's had to be razed and rebuilt every few generations from cockroach infestation.

She pulls away the gun when she hears a child hit by a car, and she rushes the adorable girl to the hospital. There she runs into her childhood friend, Joe Bradford (Michael Ealy) who is helping take care of the little girl, and through more flashbacks than you'd get in any random season of "Lost" we get slowly let into the story about how the two people knew each other growing up, and how their experiences and skin color has affected their lives.

"I am a white woman having fun with these colored people! Wow!"

And I should mention this now-- this movie works much better as an indictment of racism than as an advocacy tool. Sam and Joe's separate journeys both involve racism enforced by institutional power structures and encouraged to keep African-Americans in line with violence to the point that they have no choice but to adopt the violence themselves. The best moments in the film are the interactions, past and present, between Joe and Sam, as they try and sort out the cards they've been dealt and find emotional reserves within each other.

Those are counterbalanced by the worst moments of the movie, Sam's investigation which turn the character into a hysterical mess. This section is also critical of prejudging people of a different race based simply on their skin color, but the film uses this to contrive a version of events to resolve Sam's grief that is simply ludicrous, and more or less pays off her paranoia: she was racist and she was wrong for being racist, but she never would have gotten to hear her husband's last words if it weren't for her being racist.

Spike Lee's said that any filmgoer who watched his film Do The Right Thing and come away more concerned with the destruction of a pizza parlor than the death of a man had messed up priorities. In Unconditional, we should be more worried about the dozen children who are at risk and have issues with lying and stealing and what our treatment of them says about ourselves. Instead, the movie treats these real people as puppets, background noise for falsified melodrama. In an effort to create a pleasing product, the people behind the film messed up their priorities.

And we all know how wonderful it would smell if we lived in a loft over a barn, right?

Unconditional doesn't trust it's own audience to make up their mind. It doesn't trust it's audience to watch a film that doesn't have a white person in it. The ending pitch with the real Joe Bradford, which shows you how much you just watched was a fiction concocted to manipulate emotions, underlines these facts. When this segment reveals the movie was meant to be about the kids, those damned beautiful kids, it's almost a punchline.

A lot of times when I write about these movies that are tailor made towards Bible groups, I'll see comments along the lines of "well, this is a movie without sex and without violence and that's all that counts." The problem with that as a rationale is that it isn't critical thought, it's a statistic. If you like this film, don't let me dissuade you. I'm just telling you that the material here deserves to be handled so much better.

As a movie, Unconditional fails to make its case. Believe me, I really wanted it to.

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Posted by Danny

Comments (2) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Danny, I hope I never get so hardened that I could watch this movie and come away with your pessimism.

  2. You fool! This is based on someone’s actual life. The “murder plot”…it happened. How sad a life you lead to leave such a terrible, heartless, rascist review. They had to have a white actor….and??! How very rascist of you to say that. Would you prefer an Asian person?! You clearly missed the whole concept of this movie and that really is sad because this was an excellent movie based-on-true-events. And since you’re being so rascist and close minded, did you not realize the purpose of the “white” guy? And then why Tee left the scene?! BECAUSE SAM TBIUGHT IT WAS A BLACK GUY THAT KILLED HER HUSBAND BUT IT TURNS OUT THAT WHITE GUYS MURDER TOO. Wow. I cannot believe you actually made your review public!

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