Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Down on his luck and fast running out of money, Tyrone Purvis, proprietor of the Honeydripper bar, is facing the prospect of losing it if something doesn't come good soon. In one last desperate gamble, he arranges a performance by radio star Guitar Sam - but will the legendary performer even turn up? And will Tyrone ever learn from his experiences?

Honeydripper is ostensibly a simple tale, set against the racial segregation of Fifties Alabama, but it's a film with a lot more going on beneath the surface. Director John Sayles has taken the classic tropes of the rock 'n' roll fairytale (set in a period some time before the music would be called that) and has playfully embedded them in a story which also encompasses perspectives on religion, male unemployment, class prejudice, and the legacy of slavery. As well as the talented young drifter, the big-hearted girl, the mysterious blind busker and the resentful cotton picker, we meet a host of richly developed characters who bring their stories together into a powerful whole - and it's all underscored by the music. Sayles regular Mason Daring has put together a soundtrack which would make this film worth watching even with one's eyes shut.

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Although Danny Glover gets first billing and delivers a complex, compelling performance as Tyrone, this is really an ensemble piece, with great work all round. Even difficult characters like the corrupt Sheriff come across as rounded and, in their way, quite engaging. Although there is naturally a good deal of tension and frustration surrounding issues of race, the prejudice within these groups is not ignored. One unfortunate character experiences bullying as much for his Midwestern origins as for the colour of skin, and there's a touching vignette with a lonely housewife who reveals that she's despised by many people as white trash. Other characters are isolated by their lifestyles, such as Stokely, whose financial dependence on a much older woman has become such a joke in the community that no-one seems to notice he's in love with her. Meanwhile, Tyrone's wife Delilah (Lisa Gay Hamilton) is under pressure to isolate herself from her husband and friends by surrendering her soul to Jesus.

Honeydripper is beautiful to look at, full of reds and golds and rich umbers, even the cruel environment of the cotton fields rendered beautiful. These glorious visuals complement its soundtrack and draw the viewer in to a world where the blues really could change a man's fate. It's the kind of film which rarely gets made these days, and many viewers will find it spellbinding.

Reviewed on: 08 Feb 2008
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Honeydripper packshot
The owner of a run-down bar, struggling to compete with the arrival of a jukebox across the road, gambles everything on a star who may not even turn up.
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Director: John Sayles

Writer: John Sayles

Starring: Danny Glover, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Yaya DaCosta, Charles S Dutton, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Gary Clark Jr, Mable John, Stacy Keach

Year: 2007

Runtime: 123 minutes

Country: US

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