As a guy who was once the sheriff of another small county of Mississippi, Anderson knows better, so he advises Ward not to cause too much disruption, but Ward sticks to the procedures while pushing harder in their ongoing investigation. More agents are brought into the town, and, after the car belonging to the missing activists is finally found somewhere outside the county, he brings in far more people for the following search all over the county.
Of course, the tension surrounding the county is consequently escalated day by day, as reflected by one heart-pounding montage alternating between the search process and a series of hate crimes happening here and there in the county. Thanks to the dexterous editing by Gerald Hambling and the pulsating electronic score by Trevor Jones, we become more unnerved by the accumulating conflict in the story. And cinematographer Peter Biziou, who deservedly won an Oscar for his work here in this film, gives us strikingly fiery moments dripping with the raging evil of racism on the screen. As shown from many of his notable films such as “Midnight Express” (1978), “Pink Floyd – The Wall” (1982), “Birdy” (1984), and “Angel Heart” (1987), director Parker was a master filmmaker who knew how to engross us with mood and details, and many locations appearing in the film are packed with that distinctive Southern atmosphere and texture while occasionally making us uneasy for the menace lurking behind their shabby façade.
In the meantime, the screenplay by Chris Gerolmo gives some insight into the source of the racial hatred that often shook up the American society during that period. As reflected by a personal story told by Anderson at one point, many of the racist white folks in the South including his own father let themselves be blinded and driven by hate, and that aspect is exemplified well by many racist bullies shown in the film. No matter how much they get away with their vicious hate crimes, they’re nothing but pathetic and hateful losers, and a bunch of notable characters actors including Brad Dourif, Stephen Tobolowsky, Pruitt Taylor Vince, and Michael Rooker effectively embody that loathsome aspect. While clearly recognizing the banality of evil observed from their racist characters, the movie often shows chilling moments of violence as required, and I assure you that these moments will make whatever you saw from “The Help” (2011) and “Green Book” (2018) look like a Sunday afternoon picnic.
However, despite its good intentions, the movie lacks the perspectives from its Black characters, who are, except for one outspoken boy who helps Ward and Anderson a bit, more or less than background details unless they are victimized by those racist villains in the film. Sure, the movie shows how much they are afraid or angry about what is happening to them, but it does not delve deep into that pain and frustration which has existed for more than 100 years; the film also seriously marginalizes the significant efforts of many civil right activists during that era, focusing instead on its FBI agent heroes. As a matter of fact, J. Edgar Hoover and his men were more interested in the private life of Martin Luther King Jr. than finding those missing activists, and it is undeniable that Gerolmo’s screenplay fictionalizes its real-life story too much as following genre conventions for maximum dramatic effects.
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