Round peg in a square hole behind HBO’s cautionary drama
Richard Wright’s seminal novel, “Native Son,” makes an auspicious jump from page to screen in director Rashid Johnson’s contemporary take on the 1930s-set drama.
The film debuts on HBO Go on Sunday at 10 a.m. before it takes its bow on HBO on April 10 at 11:15 p.m.
It’s a gripping tale about Bigger Thomas (Ashton Sanders), a 20-year-old African-American man who enters into a seductive new world of power, influence and money, then quickly realizes he has bitten off more than he could chew. So, if you like stories that provoke as much as they enthrall, this is the film to look forward to.
Bigger is one of the “nicer” black kids living in an inner-city neighborhood in Chicago. While he has no choice but to occasionally hang out with “the wrong crowd,” he somehow manages to steer clear of the drug-peddling activities and nickle-and-dime robberies that make his home turf a haven for criminals. He is, as a friend aptly describes him, a “wild card who doesn’t need fixing.”
But don’t let his green hair fool you. Bigger is a round peg in a square hole. While he doesn’t mind listening to the angry anthems of rap and hip-hop music preferred by his cash-strapped peers, he would rather listen to rock music or Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony.”
His life takes a drastic turn when his mother’s new lawyer boyfriend takes him to the palatial home of affluent businessman Henry Dalton (Bill Camp) and his blind wife (Elizabeth Marvel), who hire him as their chauffeur when their driver of 20 years decides to retire.
When he isn’t driving Mrs. Dalton around, Bigger gets to hang out with the Daltons’ activist daughter and sole heiress, Mary (Margaret Qualley), and her boyfriend Jan Erlone (Nick Robinson). He even becomes privy to their late-night dates and the “underground” meetings they attend to.
When he’s done with his duties as a driver, all he’s required to do is load embers into a huge furnace responsible for the mansion’s centralized heating.
But Bigger’s growing attachment to—and fondness for—Mary leads to a disastrous misstep that casts a gloomy shadow over his once-bright future, especially after one drug-crazed night-out with his boss’ lovely but flirtatious daughter!
“Native Son” is a cautionary tale that results from an unheeded warning: The only thing worse than being blind is having sight, but no vision.
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