A based-on-true-events storyline that also carries faint echoes of the Trayvon Martin case (among countless others) gives director Curt Hahn's Deadline a timeliness and timelessness—and therefore a gravitas—that his poorly written, directed, and acted thriller doesn't earn or deserve. In 1993, African-American teenager Wallace Sampson—gifted student, overall golden child—is mysteriously murdered in cold blood in racially divided Amos, Alabama. The murder is never investigated. He leaves behind a grieving mom and a permanently traumatized girlfriend, the last person to see him alive. Flash to the present, and Matt Harper (Steve Talley), an ambitious but unproven young reporter, is brought the cold case by the beautiful, left-leaning daughter of a wealthy, dyed-in-the-wool Southern racist. Harper's editor assigns gnarled, old-school reporter Ronnie Bullock (Eric Roberts) to cover the story with him. Needless to say, the odd-couple duo uncovers an endless pit of small-town secrets and lies in which racism is the fuel, and assorted sordidness flows like toxic waste from corrupt judges, evil businessmen, and so on. The fact that real-life deadly racial animus in America is often cartoonish in its manifestation doesn't excuse Deadline's cliché-ridden characterizations of bigotry. Worse, the film has no pulse and no dramatic tension, despite its subject matter. It's a slog to get to its big revelations.
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