Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Alleged On DVD

I am normally weary of movies that deal with The Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton Tennessee in 1925. I had a great uncle I remember fondly who attended the trial and I used to sit and listen to him and my grandfather talk about it. Later in life I especially enjoyed the renderings of the trial as presented in the play and movies, especially the original film Inherit The Wind. The new film Alleged, presents itself as a love story, but it is really a retelling of the famous trial which addressed the legality of teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution in the classroom in Tennessee. While little new is presented in Alleged, there are still some thought provoking concepts well worth watching and the possible discussions on the various perspectives presented in the movie could be fruitful?

Alleged presents its story with a quality cast including the likes of: Nathan West, Colm Meaney, Brian Dennehy, Fred Thompson, and Ashley Johnson to name a few. Especially good is Colm Meaney as a ruthless newspaper reporter from Baltimore. The technical aspects of this film make for what would have been a very good television movie. It falls short of a good theatrical release. This isn’t a serious criticism; there have recently been some good television movies. In Alleged the editing is choppy and the soundtrack had me wondering what is going on as it distracts from the movie with out of the period musical numbers. Thompson and Dennehy are as good as usual and the times they are on screen together are magical, unfortunately there aren’t enough of those moments.

Alleged follows the trial through the eyes of Dayton Tennessee reporter Charles Anderson played by Nathan West. West while a reputable actor does what he can with the unremarkable script. Unfortunately, the power of this story, the trial itself, is lost in West’s character that at best is irritating and at its worst, horrid. While there are supposed to be redemptive moments in his relationship with fiancĂ©e Rose Williams, played by Ashley Johnson, I just didn’t care for his character. There are also various story arcs including the sterilization laws that existed during the particular time for persons with disabilities and minorities. While Alleged had the opportunity to explore this from a different angel, there was actually very little development and in some ways, this fascinating subject distracted from the overall flow of the film.

One of the weaknesses of the film is it has too many subplots. Some of those in and of themselves would have made a better movie and while this film is enjoyable and educational, it was lacking. It would have been better with a slightly longer film. It does an admirable job at presenting the historical aspects of the trial and the debate, both pro and con regarding the theory of evolution is done in a respectful way that should have those with various perspectives appreciating the film.

Up to this point some may think I didn’t like this movie, but I did like it. I especially liked the respectful way Darwin’s theory of evolution is presented, while at the same time bringing to the forefront some of Darwin’s most controversial beliefs. At task is more than the debate of creationism vs. evolution, what I found especially perplexing is the presentation of supposed truth by the media. It is here I was challenged. The film does a nice job of presenting how news editors can and often does, manipulate the truth. There are those in the ‘media’ who have biased opinions and those opinions are often presented as ‘truth,’ when in reality, what they present is more of an opinion. It is as if some would say, ‘to hell with the truth.’ This was apparently the case as history shows in regards to The Scopes Trial. Some of this I heard first hand as my great uncle told his stories. I am reminded from a faith perspective to make sure, ‘I study to show myself approved,’ and ‘to be prepared to give an answer.’ I am also reminded of the danger of the tongue and the need to tell truth. Unfortunately, there are times lies and falsehoods win out. I believe this is a part of what the filmmakers are communicating. The premise of the manipulation of truth is done quite well in Alleged.

I was entertained by Alleged, in part due to my own love for the story and the history surrounding the trial. The movie, if a tad longer, or a little less burdened with various plots could have been much better. I was also disappointed with the quality of the DVD and the lack of special features. I would still give a slight recommendation for the purchase of the film as it is an important historical event worth discussing. This film along with several others, including Inherit The Wind, Expelled and Creation a film that deals with the life of Charles Darwin and his struggles with faith and science could make for some wonderful conversations. It amazes me that this theme is still relevant some 75+ years later. I challenge though, visit the various perspectives on the issue, visit the history of the people involved in the story, and from there make an educated decision or at least one where you will be prepared to give an answer when the topic comes up, because no matter what your belief on the debate of evolution vs. creationism, you will be engaged in a debate that garnished national attention some years ago in Dayton Tennessee.

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