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4.1 out of 5 stars
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4.1 out of 5 stars
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 20 December 2012
Independent film-maker John Sayles is a classic example of someone whose talent has been essentially overlooked by Hollywood's money-making machine, and who struggles to secure the funding for his series of (invariably) intelligent, perceptive, expertly constructed and relevant films. Sayles has tackled a wide range of (frequently international) social and human issues, including labour relations, human isolation, sports match-fixing, imperialist war, political corruption and modern urban malaise in films such as Lone Star, Matewan, City Of Hope, Limbo, Amigo, Men With Guns and Eight Men Out. 2007's Honeydripper fits neatly into Sayles' body of work, being a study of post-WW2 human and racial tensions in 1950s southern USA, whilst also showcasing the vibrant rhythm and blues music of the era.

As is evidenced by Sayles' director's commentary and the various interviews included as DVD extras, one thing always very noticeable about any Sayles film is the meticulous subject research that underpins his film-making. Here, as well as making extensive use of home-grown acting talent from Alabama (where the film was shot), Sayles captures the atmosphere of the pre-Korean war, institutionally racist, religiously devout, small-town society brilliantly. This is a society where 'coloreds' have their own shop entrances, and where negroes seeking work are routinely rounded up, slung in jail and forced to work the cotton fields. At the centre of Sayles' film is Tyrone 'Pine Top' Purvis (in the best film performance I have seen from Danny Glover), an erstwhile musician with a troubled past, now struggling to make ends meet running his Honeydripper bar/club, his wife Delilah (an outstanding Lisa Gay Hamilton), a domestic help, suffering from a bout of religious ambivalence, and Delilah's daughter China Doll (Yaya DaCosta), the (rather reluctant) subject of local boys' attentions. In order to prevent forced closure of his club by malevolent rent-collectors, Purvis hits on the idea of bringing New Orleans guitar hero Guitar Sam to town, even if the venture does require him to pilfer liquor from a neighbouring club and to steal from his wife's savings (originally destined for China Doll's beauty therapist training). When the musician doesn't show at the railway station, Purvis then has to persuade (or bribe) local Sheriff Pugh (a superbly brooding and lascivious Stacey Keach) to free wandering musician Sonny Blake (Gary Clark, Jr.), in order for the planned gig to go ahead.

Whilst the 'unknown artist makes good and saves the day' plot-line is, of course, a well-trodden one, Sayles conjures up something quite special, via a series of remarkably naturalistic acting performances, an intelligent script, a brilliantly evocative (Nitszchean almost) score by Mason Daring and some impressive cinematography courtesy of Mike Leigh's regular DoP, Dick Pope. Particularly evocative are the scenes in the local cotton fields, those of youngsters improvising their attempts at playing the blues, the exhilarating live performance from Blake and the use of the local blind guitarist Possum (played by blues musician Keb' Mo'), who haunts the town as its ethereal prophet (this latter a sign of Sayles' genius touch).

Whilst, for me, the last 30 minutes or so (the club gig excepted) become more routine, Sayles' film is still another compellingly made entry in the pantheon of work of one of the most outstanding American film-makers of the last 30 years.
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on 9 August 2011
Nice little film. Danny Glover particularly good. Although evocative of the period, I felt that the film lacked that edge that could have turned into a great film. A bit too sugary perhaps. Nonetheless, well worth watching.
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on 25 July 2012
"Honeydripper" is a well made, excellent movie. But for people who are passionate about the blues, rock and roll and the South of the U.S it is much more. It's a real trip. When it comes to praise the acting you wouldn't know where to begin...it's all just great. The musical contributions of Keb' Mo' and Gary Clark, Jr. (both now well established blues superstars) are also very exciting. 'nuff said, order this!
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on 14 June 2008
The latest in the lengthy career of indi film maker John Sayles is,in my oppinion, a mediocre affair.Sayles concentrates,as usual on the details of small town existance and often doesn't let the plot get in the way.This is a long,languid affair that for me,doesn't really come to life until the final reel.Being a music enthusiast i was drawn to the pivotal part of the story which is when acoustic blues became "plugged in" and "electrified" and was hoping for some great blues and r&b tunes to accompany the film.But alas,this most important and interesting part of musical history was given a backseat to Sayles's,at times,rather ponderous study of small town life in the 1950's deep south.
That aside,there is much to enjoy here with Danny Glover giving a world weary,and highly credible performance as "pinetop" the almost down and out pianist and club owner who spends most of the film bemoaning his bad luck at the disappearance of guitar legend "guitar Sam" and trying to work his way out of some tight financial spots.There's good support from Charles S.Dutton and all of the rest of the supporting cast but it could have been soooo much better if the music had been allowed to play a bigger part other than at the enjoyable and uplifting ending.
If you are a Sayles fan then this one won't disappoint but if you are a music fan looking for some real blues and r&b action then there's slim pickings (no pun intended).There is a bonus for blues fans as guitarist Keb Mo' appears in several quirky scenes which left you wanting and hoping he'd make an appearance in the grand finale jam session (he didn't by the way).Modestly enjoyable and no more.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 30 September 2008
I quite enjoyed this film, it has a good period feel (the early fifties), there are very good performances from Danny Glover and Stacy Keach, it features some nice music and it looks fine. However, the story is very slight and there is no real drama, plus it doesn't tell us anything that we didn't know already and for a John Sayles film it seemed strangely apolitical. I would have liked to have seen a bit more of the blatant racism and appalling poverty that was still a feature of black people's lives in the South, even in the rockin' fifties. It reminded me a bit of the Cohen Brothers' "Brother, where art thou", particularly the bits featuring Keb' Mo' as a blind street singer, although it has none of that film's style or quirkiness. It is certainly a film that doesn't have to be seen on the big screen.

I'd happily watch this film again if it came on television but it is not a film that lingers in the mind or that I'd go out of my way to see again. I felt it was neither one thing nor another - not a drama because hardly anything dramatic happens and not a music film because it's all a bit too bland and corny. I thought that the best thing about the film was Danny Glover, who completely inhabits his (rather meagre) part and totally dominates the film, which without him wouldn't be worth watching.
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on 19 November 2008
there are tasty musical morsels in this film which will wet your appetite for blues, but not satisfy it. I've just ordered the soundtrack, which I hope will be superb .
The film itself looks at the persecution of the blacks in America around about the time of the second world war I would guess, in the deep south. It seems to have a tongue in cheek feel to it, and pulls its punches on the tense bits, which are somewhat superficially handled, as if entertainment was the main objective. Still, as entertainment, with some nice blues,you can still enjoy it
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on 16 June 2013
Only stumbled upon this film by accident on BBC iplayer but found it to be a very enjoyable story with some great performances. Definitely worth a watch especially if you enjoy early rock and roll music.
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on 9 August 2009
I first caught this movie on BBC iPlayer and was so taken by the quality of acting, subject-matter and history that I knew I HAD to buy it! It is a movie that I will watch again and again. If you like the Blues or are interested in the birth of Rock, or just like good movies then buy it.
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on 22 April 2010
As a blues fan I remember making a mental note to see this film when it came out, but events got in the way until I bought it on DVD. I was disappointed by a weak story line and the fact that I had great difficulty in understanding the dialogue. Not because they were speaking a foreign language like American English, but just very poor quality sound recording. The soundtrack music was OK, but could have been a lot better. After all, the blues tradition is so rich that the makers should have been spoiled for choice.
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on 24 July 2013
Very entertaining Best of the afro American musical films. Danny Glover in top form. We need a sequel to this !
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