Jason Patric, Thandie Newton
It is too bad that a movie can display a good heart and a noble mind, and yet after 40 minutes one can think of nothing but dinner. Patric plays a backwoods farmer in early 19th-century North Carolina, returning to the old homestead with a fresh load of provisions. Pausing to refresh himself at a stream, he encounters a frightened runaway slave (Newton)—and, in an-instinctive moment of pity, points her North. When he discovers her wandering around his campsite the next night, he lets her hide in his wagon as he makes his way through the forest.
August King is meant to have allegorical simplicity—Patric’s journey is toward the truth—but, you know, sometimes a few licks of varnish can help. The primeval forest, for instance, should have as much presence as any of the characters, but it’s just some trees and the occasional cascade. Newton’s owner, who hounds her day and night, should have been a dark presence as well. But Larry Drake plays him with blubbery pathos. This is Simon Legree by way of Baby Huey.
As for Patric’s opaque, introspective performance, it’s anyone’s guess what he’s doing. What stands out is the way he has of unexpectedly coming to a stop and slowly rolling his head back, as if it were resting on ball bearings. Sort of the antebellum equivalent of vogueing. (PG-13)