March 03, 1997 12:00 PM

Ving Rhames, Jon Voight, Don Cheadle

At the start of 1923, Rosewood, Fla., was a thriving town, home to an established community of African-Americans who ran local businesses, labored in a lumber mill or worked as maids for whites in the next town. But after a white woman in the nearby village falsely claimed she was raped by a black man, an angry white mob killed as many as 150 of Rosewood’s residents, torched the town and drove away forever the remaining townsfolk. This is one of the more shameful episodes in America’s tortured history of race relations and now, using a heaping helping of dramatic license, director John Singleton (Higher Learning) depicts it in a portentous would-be epic. The movie is too calculatedly mapped out to ever be quite as stirring as it wants to be. Still, this story needs telling, the narrative is inherently dramatic, and there are fervent performances by Rhames, who plays a fictional hero right out of Shane, Voight, as a sympathetic white shopkeeper, and Cheadle, as a black music teacher who refuses to run. (R)

You May Like