As the first release of the faith based film label Slingshot Pictures, "Alleged" certainly tackles one of the largest subjects imaginable. In 1925, the Scopes "Monkey Trial" (famously depicted in Inherit the Wind) unfolded in a small Tennessee town and debated whether evolution should be allowed to be taught in public schools. A massive confrontation that pitted science against theology and two of the most famed orators/lawyers of the period (Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan) against one another, the case was branded as "The Trial of the Century." I, for one, think it's an inspired idea to revisit the Scopes Trial from a modern vantage point as the play "Inherit the Wind" was written in 1955 and didn't really evoke all of the complexities inherent in the situation. But while "Alleged" does offer some insight into the background of this notorious event, it really doesn't attempt to be a definitive and comprehensive study of it either. The movie really centers on an ambitious local reporter who faces difficult decisions about his values and principles when pressed by an unscrupulous editor.
Likable Nathan West plays our intrepid young reporter, and Ashley Johnson is his equally appealing gal pal. As the Scopes trial is being engineered by local dignitaries to bring tourism and prosperity to the dying town, West also sees it as an opportunity to achieve big city success and notoriety. But at what cost? When Brian Dennehy (as Darrow) and Fred Dalton Thompson (as Jennings Bryan) square off, Colm Meaney (as Baltimore Sun editor H.L. Mencken) pushes him to dish the dirt for maximum provocation. But being enticed to the dark side has its price, and right wills out every time. The film lacks a bit of subtlety as Meaney is practically evil incarnate and the lead actors are too sweet and modernly sensible to be awarded anything but a happy ending. The film throws in a haphazard sideplot about eugenics and forced sterilization that happens to be dramatically and conveniently timed for maximum impact. It is just one of many important topics that take a backseat to the central gentle love story.
"Alleged" is certainly at its most effective when the trial is front and center. Dennehy and Dalton Thompson are a pleasure and their interactions with one another bring a livelihood to the proceedings. This being a family film, however, it paints a rather pretty picture of our past. Although racism is mentioned, no one in this little town seems the least bit prejudiced. Johnson's sister, in fact, is half black and there is relatively no reaction to that whatsoever (except by the evil character). Even though a certain character is slated for sterilization (as was common practice), a last minute injunction saves the day. Whew! Difficult topic over, never to be mentioned again. Few things can be more incendiary or heated than evolutionary debate, but most of the actual townsfolk don't seem to have an opinion one way or another. It's like they're gathering for an ice cream social.
Again, "Alleged" hints at a lot of topics without digging too deep. As an introduction, it's fine--but at 90 minutes (and most of that devoted to young lovers), important issues are given short shrift. The Special Features of the DVD include a Discussion Guide to be utilized in possible church or school settings. So that kind of gears you toward the targeted audience for the film and its intentions. It's all gently likable without being too challenging. I enjoyed the movie, but I still think there is a great film yet to be made that really digs into the Scopes trial in a relevant way. For my taste, the film rates about 3 1/2 stars for pleasantness. A good introduction, but strictly family fare--I'll round up for good intentions. KGHarris, 11/11.