'Hale County This Morning, This Evening' film review: Evocative, slice-of-life poetry
At first blush, the mesmerizing documentary "Hale County This Morning, This Evening" (now playing in select theaters) is an abstract string of moments vacillating between the banal to the heartbreaking. However, this impressionistic and intimate mosaic forms an evocative portrait of life in the very Deep South.
In short: Five years in the lives of two young African American men living in rural Alabama - aspiring basketball player Daniel attends college while new father Quincy prepares for life as a young family man.
"Hale County" is a series of elegantly framed and utterly humane moments that live in the micro and macro. Unburdened by a strict narrative arc, director RaMell Ross is freed up to just turn on the camera and capture moments. Some are innocuous daily routines, while other scenes are raw, unvarnished emotion.
This documentary would simply not work were it not for the intimate, observant fly-on-the-wheel access afforded the filmmakers - and Ross's keen eye to see the breathtaking in the seemingly mundane. "Hale County" gracefully makes the audience feel like they've spent years living in Hale County - the community is elementally familiar, yet, it's specifically of the Deep South. The subjects are so at ease that they seem unaware a camera is focused on their every nuance.
As the film patiently reveals the routine of small town life, an undercurrent of urgency surges through the film. This is a community still living in the aftermath of cotton plantations, with few opportunities available to this day. Daniel and Quincy are men with modest dreams - yet they clearly have the want of something more. Aside from a handful of scenes where the two young men directly address the camera, the film itself is very light on direct dialogue. Yet, "Hale County" precisely and clearly documents the lives of these two men - with the absolute minimal exposition, Ross poetically presents their lives through powerful imagery and quiet, candid moments.
"Hale County" transcends the typical, rigid topic-centric documentary. This is the cinematic equivalent to a resonant photo-essay. The documentary's lack of narrative structure is its strength - but it's not so nebulous that it lacks substantial, thematic shape. In documenting the ups and downs in Daniel's and Bryant's lives, it also captures the essence of daily life in Hale County.
Final verdict: "Hale County" is a sublime cinematic experience.
"Hale County This Morning, This Evening" is now playing in select cities. This documentary has a running time of 76 minutes and is unrated.