This is quite simply the most moving and powerful film I've seen this year. In fact, the film had me from the opening credits, where scenes of a young black mother getting her kids up out of bed and ready for the day are juxtaposed with scenes of police getting their armaments ready for an assault on a government housing project.
"American Violet" is based on a true story, and while the film makers combined some characters and condensed the passage of time for dramatic purposes, the key events of the film are as they happened in real life.
It's just another day in Bush Texas, where counties were given government money for making drug convictions. Worse, citizens could be accused and arrested based on the testimony of a single informant, in this case a young paranoid schizophrenic whose testimony would never hold up in court.
How then did the government prevail in these cases? By offering suspects a plea bargain: plead guilty and pay a fine but serve no jail time. What they didn't tell those who accepted the pleas were the terrible consequences: no further government benefits, no government housing subsidies, felonies on their records, and no further right to vote as American citizens.
Appallingly, this film reveals that ninety percent of all the cases in the American "justice" system are resolved by these profoundly inequitable plea bargains. What's more, an African-American man is more likely to serve time in jail in contemporary America than to graduate from college.
This story focuses on the young mother accused of dealing drugs. Against all odds, and having no resources to afford a good lawyer, she filed a civil suit against the government with the aid of the American Civil Liberties Union -- and got the government to drop the charges and even amend their practices.
Now they cannot arrest someone in Texas based on the testimony of a single individual.
Unfortunately, the corrupt DA who made a practice of running these raids on the predominantly Afro-American housing development was eventually re-elected (and may still be in office -- it's unclear).
Indeed, though this corruption took place even as Bush was "appointed" President in 2000, the system is still as much in need of repair in Obama's America.
As a white, middle-aged, middle-class viewer, I was shocked and appalled by this sad truth, of which I was unaware. And yes, I used up about a quarter of a box of Kleenex watching this movie.
The acting here is uniformly Oscar-worthy, most notably by Alfre Woodard as the young woman's mother and newcomer Nicole Beharie as Dee, the accused. Charles Dutton and Will Patton also give sterling performances; even the little girls are commendable -- four sisters in real life.
Finally I must take VEHEMENT exception to the editorial review Amazon has posted above. I don't know who the blockheaded woman is who called this a bad movie -- I've never heard of this reviewer before and doubt I ever will again, if her other reviews are as far off base as this one.
Interestingly, the director Tim Disney is the great-grand-nephew of Walt Disney, and is apparently as devout a good-hearted liberal as Uncle Walt was conservative, cold, and, according to some, anti-Semitic. In fact, I will be as bold as to say that if Tim Disney makes more films of this calibre, Walt's greatest gift to America and the world may turn out to be Tim, not Mickey Mouse.
And what does the title of the film refer to? The hardy little plant that almost dies when Dee is imprisoned, flourishing again at the end of the film.
I can't recommend this film enough. Make sure you have a box of Kleenex at the ready, however. You will need it.