By Owen Gleiberman
October 09, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

Shadrach

D+
type
  • Movie

The title character is a 99-year-old former slave who has walked 600 miles, from Alabama to Virginia, to the site of the tobacco plantation where he spent his boyhood. He has come there to die, and, with no possessions other than his weary bones, he places himself in the care of the Dabneys, a dirt-poor family of hillbillies (led by Harvey Keitel and Andie MacDowell) who are descendants of the plantation’s original owners. Will they bury Shadrach in the family cemetery? Or will the local sheriff succeed in preserving Jim Crow even in death, forcing the old man to lie in the anonymous plot of a ”colored” church? The dilemma would have had more urgency had Shadrach been provided with so much as one good monologue or meaningful reminiscence. As played by the wizened 83-year-old John Franklin Sawyer, he’s a symbol but not a character, and this saccharine, lumbering drama, adapted from a William Styron short story and directed by his daughter Susanna Styron, makes slavery too quaint for comfort.

Shadrach

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