A One Note Story, Savannah Flatlines at a Slow Messy Pace


With all the momentum of dripping molasses, Savannah recounts the true-life story of Ward Allen (Jim Caviezel), a larger-than-life outdoorsman too big to be boxed in by early 20th-century societal boundaries. Rejecting his privileged plantation heritage to hunt ducks alongside freed slave sidekick Christmas (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Ward proves a Shakespeare-quoting wild man increasingly unfit for modern life. Annette Haywood-Carter’s Hallmark Channel–ish film celebrates his rabble-rousing and fiercely independent streak with a suffocating earnestness. Drenched in dewy-eyed nostalgia, tinged with sorrow for the way changing tides made Ward an outcast, the story overflows with reverence but is drastically short on passion or suspense, and the framing device—in which an aged Christmas (Ejiofor, in awful old-man make-up) remembers his exploits with Ward to a friend (Bradley Whitford)—is as awkward and messy as the action proper is inert. Ward’s marriage to a society woman (Jaimie Alexander) who falls for him despite her father’s (Sam Shepard) misgivings, as well as his eventual descent into isolated obsolescence, are all dramatized in the same gently wistful register, so that despite a soulful turn from Caviezel as a Christlike iconoclast compelled to buck convention, the film’s one note soon comes to feel like a flatline.

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