Woman, Thou Art Loosed ***
Starring Kimberly Elise, Loretta Devine, Debbi Morgan, Michael Boatman, Clifton Powell. Directed by Michael Schultz.
96 minutes. Rated R for violence, sexual content and drug use.
An adaptation of Bishop T.D. Jakes' novel, chronicling a woman's struggle to come to terms with childhood sex abuse. Opened Friday in area theaters.
"Woman, Thou Art Loosed" is a powerful sermon for the screen based on a novel by Bishop T.D. Jakes, an evangelical preacher from Texas who plays himself.
The movie opens with the charismatic Jakes preaching to a crowd at a revival -- and a beautiful young woman coming up to the stage and firing a gun several times.
The action shifts to death row, where the young woman, now awaiting execution, tells Jakes, a kindly giant of a man, the story of her life. The movie continues to switch back and forth from revival (including a scene of the revival playing on television during a violent transaction in a coke dealer's apartment) to death row confessional to flashbacks of the past.
Kimberly Elise gives a strong performance as Michelle Jordan, a young woman trying to come to grips with childhood sexual abuse that sent her into a downward spiral of prostitution and drug addiction. Sweet-faced Loretta Devine is spectacular as Michelle's mother, Cassie, a woman so desperate for a man's company that she refuses to believe her boyfriend, Reggie (a suavely creepy turn by Clifton Powell), raped her daughter.
A movie is a powerful medium for a sermon. It's hard to imagine a more effective illustration of pure evil than the scene in which 12-year-old Michelle is dragged screaming into her bedroom by a drunken Reggie.
Schultz's movie comes from a powerful tradition of African-American revivalist preaching, offering a message of hope, rather than hell and brimstone, to people who have survived the worst life has to offer. It's a searing dramatic exploration of human depravity and redemption -- of Christian hope "loosing" someone from the burden of past hurts. (The title is from the Gospel of Luke 13:12.)
It is a little troubling, though, to reflect that the "loosing" of the film's title seems to have been achieved through a Charles Bronson "Death Wish" act of revenge. Remorse expressed later does not have the same dramatic impact as the thrill of seeing an evildoer executed right on the altar.