If you're expecting Rosewood to be a small, art house type of movie, well, you'll be in for a shock. Rosewood is anything but a small, introspective movie. Director John Singleton (Boyz N the Hood and Poetic Justice) has fashioned the story as part small, personal drama and part big action movie. The filmmakers seem to have decided that a simple movie about the burnings and killings wouldn't be enough. That type of movie might play the art houses but it wouldn't reach a large audience. So instead, the filmmakers have created a movie filled with thrilling chases and encounters, that even manages to give us a hero cut in the Sylvester Stallone mold. Instead of seeing Rosewood as a simple venue for showing the horrific results of a lynching party gone crazy, where the black men and women become victims, producer Peters and director Singleton have seen the opportunity to create an uplifting story of people fighting back against the oppressors. As a result, you'll probably find fellow audience members cheering and applauding as the black hero (Ving Rhames) swings into action to save the children.
But does such an approach sacrifice integrity for simple thrills? I think the answer is yes, and whether you'll like Rosewood may depend on just how willing you are to go along with the filmmakers' desire to make sure you can enjoy watching this movie instead of simply being horrified at the atrocities. It's definitely an uneasy mixture and the approach threatens to undermine the production, softening the horror of the murders by too quickly shifting to scenes with Mr. Mann, muscles bulging like Rambo, taking on the lynching party, pistols in each hand, like a character out of a John Woo movie. In addition, the film too easily presents Rosewood as good and Sumner as bad without many of the complexities and ambiguities that you'll find in real life.
But whatever the case, Rosewood is a impressive production. Production designer Paul Sylbert gives us a setting that's filled with wonderful details that make the world of Rosewood and Sumner spring to life again. The real Rosewood may be long gone. But the filmmakers have built a new town from the ground up.
And the movie is filled with some impressive performances, such as Michael Rooker as the Sumner Sheriff. He's impotent to stop the lynching party. In fact, he rides along with it wherever it goes. Don Cheadle (who won a Best Supporting Actor award from the National Society of Film Critics for his work in Devil With a Blue Dress) creates a dignified, proud family man who demands respect and refuses to accept less. Ving Rhames emerges as a convincing action hero. We won't have to wait long to see him in another action role; Con Air, co-starring Nicholas Cage, is due in theaters soon. And Jon Voight delivers one of his best performances since his Academy Award-winning role in Coming Home. He gives us a character who clearly wrestles with his own desire to not become involved with the race war.
The movie's greatest accomplishment, however, comes from its convincing depiction of how the lynching party quickly gets out of control. Singleton keeps the emphasis on individual reactions, showing us the people, the faces, behind the events. "I'm supposed to uphold the law!" the sheriff shouts as the lynching party hangs a black man. No one listens. However, when the filmmakers reach for bigger statements, they often stumble. A father teaches his boy how to tie a noose and pushes him to shoot guns, but the movie then expects the boy to serve as a surrogate voice for the audience and reject his father, saying "You ain't no man." Or it gives us some silly suspense aboard a train that sounds suspiciously like Scottie's "But-she-can't-take-it-anymore, Captain" dialogue from Star Trek
As a result, Rosewood strives for great statements and only ends up being a good action movie instead.