Directed by Lee Daniels.
Cast includes Andra Day, Trevante Rhodes, Garrett Hedlund, Melvin Gregg, Natascha Lyonne, Tyler James Williams, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Rob Morgan, Miss Lawrence, Evan Ross and Tone Bell.
Followed Holiday throughout her career as she is attacked by the Federal Department of Narcotics with an undercover operation led by black federal agent Jimmy Fletcher, with whom she had a tumultuous affair.
Lee Daniels not only drops his worst impulses with The United States vs. Billie Holiday victim, but also to the dreaded well-known missteps of biopics. Luckily he has the incredibly talented singer Andra Day in his corner, who not only sees the part of the Grammy-winning trailblazer of the same name, but also sounds like she’s pulling off one of the many stage numbers (used here arbitrarily for a mistake). or mimicking her tense voice from decades of drug abuse.
Andra Day is also ready to join the onslaught of domestic violence and sexual assault (there’s a slimy sequence from her teenage years in a brothel that younger counterpart Yvanna- Rose Leblanc deserves a mention), heroin and atrocity relatives, and all-round controlling and unhealthy relationships that seem drawn to her like a bee to honey because of this troubling past. Even so, I don’t want to take too much away from the cast as they are doing their best to make it work, but from a creative standpoint, it’s confusing that Lee Daniels (with a script by Suzan-Lori Parks based on Johann Hari’s book) has it once again opted for relentless melodramatic agony when he already has the perfect story in mind for the film; it’s right there in the title.
Much like Martin Luther King Jr. and other prominent influential black historical figures, the US government masked aspects of its war on drugs to eliminate those who had something important to say, the public Could influence opinion and encourage changes toward equality in drawing attention to horrific acts of violence that are still going on (the film plays with a somewhat pointless interview-framing device in the 1940s before splitting sections in the 1950s). The Federal Department of Narcotics dispatched agent Harry Anslinger (Garrett Hedlund, believed to have a bankable racist career) to crack down on Billie Holiday, who cracked down on her drug abuse struggles, to lock her up and get her out of the civil rights image. To get closer and frame Billie, Harry had his agent (and one of the first to be black) Jimmy Fletcher (Trevante Rhodes) pose as a soldier approaching the jazz star.
Given the timing, it is too important to note that The United States vs. Billie Holiday will be released within weeks of Judas and the Black Messiah. The story of Fred Hampton is a similar narrative thread of an undercover black agent misled by white superiors. There are two differences: this film and its story can be seen everywhere, until after Billie Holiday’s first arrest and the two-year-old conviction, an affair ended without really delving into Jimmy’s realization that he wasn’t for a worthwhile cause or for a prison life used / clean. Sure, there’s a prison montage, but for Lee Daniels it’s just another opportunity to show more inhuman punishment than exploring the situation. And I’m not saying that this movie has to be longer because it’s absolutely no longer than two hours, but it’s overflowing with characters and plot points like a typical biopic.
Then there is the impression that the United States Make every effort against Billie Holiday not to deal with these federal injustices. There is, admittedly, a harrowing period of abuse that is effective, largely because once the material is held back with a clear and precise vision behind the purpose of the segment, which leads directly to a rebellious performance of the controversial hit Strange Fruit. The song in question is a poetic and graphic description of a lynching and, most importantly, why the FBI wants to get rid of it; It’s a reminder that the past is still the present. In that case, today is literally reminiscent of an anti-lynch bill that has not yet been passed.
The rest is Lee Daniels collapsing notable events in Billie Holiday’s life (a defiant outbreak of her restricted access to one Hotel service elevator), glimpses of troubled relationships (including hints of a possible romance with actress Tallulah Bankhead, played by Natasha Lyonne, which makes it feel crammed) and concerts poorly fill in the blanks. The costume design is certainly impressive and a great deal of effort went into recreating the 1940s (iconic buildings like Carnegie Hall and private label logos), but it all serves a messy narrative that requires a more calculated focus, which all in all Andra Day can do not overcome despite incredible efforts.
The US versus Billie Holiday only made me go back to a time when the masses were interested in consuming challenging entertainment like songs like Strange Fruit rather than the usual suspects to complain when art dares to become political. That dynamic would be worth exploring more than just abuse on your face, and so is the United States, which is actively trying to take down Billie Holiday. Thankfully, Andra Day is great and the movie looks great. Other than that, it’s a disposable and incoherent mix of physical and mental abuse. The real Billie Holiday deserves to be better in life, just as she deserves a better bio.
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Look for new reviews here, follow my twitter or letterboxd or send me an email at [email protected]
Filed under: Movies, Reviews, Robert Kojder Tagged with: Andra Day, Evan Ross, Garrett Hedlund, Lee Daniels, Melvin Gregg, Miss Lawrence, Natascha Lyonne, Rob Morgan, USA versus Billie Holiday, Tonglocke, Trevante Rhodes, Tyler James Williams
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