Review by Sean Boelman
We’ve seen plenty of biopics about important stories in the Civil Rights era, but it’s surprising that there hasn’t been a high-profile movie about the death of Emmett Till until this point. While some have cast doubt on it, wondering if it’s just “Oscar bait,” Till is simply an extraordinary film, exceeding any expectations one could have of it.
The movie tells the story of Emmett Till and his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, who sought to bring the perpetrators of her son’s brutal lynching to justice in a system that wanted to turn a blind eye. Although this may seem like just another Black trauma movie, Chinonye Chukwu’s direction is extraordinarily sensitive in a way that allows it to move beyond convention.
The film starts soon before Emmett leaves for Alabama and goes through the trial of the people who admitted to his lynching. Ultimately, this is a very well-documented story, and one that many people have learned about — whether in school or through the media. However, regardless of how familiar one is with this story, it maintains its power today.
One thing this movie nails, perhaps surprisingly, is the importance of this story. Mamie Till-Mobley never wanted her son to be painted as a martyr. His death was a tragedy, and while it was representative of the systemic issues that plagued our society then (and to an extent, still do today), his story is not for the sake of a cause. The writers did an extraordinary job of capturing both the humanity and intimacy of this tragedy without making it feel like it is trying to make some grand point.
Danielle Deadwyler is absolutely astounding as Mamie Till-Mobley, in what has to be the best performance of the year. Her performance has an extraordinary amount of restraint and yet you still feel every single drop of emotion she brings to each and every scene she has. It’s unreal how much she is able to make the viewer emote without ever feeling like she is over-acting.
The supporting cast is also excellent. Whoopi Goldberg is probably the biggest name in the ensemble, and while she only has a few scenes, she is great in all of them — nearly disappearing into the role. However, young Jalyn Hall, who plays Emmett Till, is absolutely heartbreaking to watch in all the right ways.
Additionally, the crafts of this film are pretty brilliant all-around. Bobby Bukowski’s cinematography is gorgeous but very low-key, allowing the performances to be the center of attention. Abel Korzeniowski also gives the movie a score that does an exceptional job of accentuating the emotion in the story.
Far more than a standard biopic, Chinonye Chukwu’s Till does an extraordinary job of telling this story in a way that is both intimate and thoroughly moving. It’s a strong film all-around, but Danielle Deadwyler’s performance is what takes it to the next level and cements it as perhaps the best movie of the year.
Till is now playing in theaters.