Compassion for Charlie
With the imagery on the cover featuring a burning cross "High Lonesome", which also goes by the name of "A Father for Charlie", looks like a movie in the same manner as "Mississippi Burning" with a story of racism in a southern community. And yes "High Lonesome" does feature a story of racism with the locals giving a black farmer a hard time as they try to scare him out of the county like they have done to all other coloured folk. But whilst powerful in the message it tells "High Lonesome" is a sentimentally powerful movie featuring an unlikely friendship and one which saves two people's lives.
Walter Osgood (Louis Gossett Jr. - Cover Up) is the last coloured man in the county after the white folk had decided some years earlier to run them out by what ever means necessary and whilst having lost his family and faced racism on a daily basis Walter refuses to leave as he hopes one day his son who went missing over a decade earlier will return. As a hard working farmer Walter not only has to deal with the day to day racism but also the anger of others who are struggling because they fail to work as hard especially share cropper Reuben Cantwell (Don Swayze - Prairie Fever) whose hatred towards Walter is rubbing off on his children especially Charlie (Joseph Mazzello - The River Wild). When one night Reuben burns down Walter's barn and then flees with his daughter Tessa (Evan Rachel Wood) it leaves Walter facing foreclosure as his crops are destroyed but despite this he remains calm and after discovering Charlie sleeping rough takes him in.
I will stop there with the synopsis but I could have easily gone on because that barely covers the first 30 minutes of this 90 minute made for TV drama and there is plenty more story after that from KKK lynchings to the return of Reuben having sold Tessa to a rich family. But the thing about "High Lonesome" is that whilst it covers a lot it never becomes overly convoluted by keeping things down to two areas.
The first area is the look at the racism which Walter has to endure from being short changed on crop prices to being charged higher prices at the grocery store. But more significantly is that firstly we see how some locals such as Sam the banker who are not racist are forced to tow the line because of the racist stronghold on the town and secondly that Walter is a smart man who knows that if he ever thought back or kicked up a stink he would either end up forced out of the county or dangling from a rope. Now you could say isn't it far fetched the set up of Walter being the only black man in the county but when you understand that he stays out of hope his missing son will return you can understand why he remains in the face of so much prejudice.
But the other area which "High Lonesome" focuses on is the friendship which forms between Walter and Charlie as they end up caring for each other with Charlie growing to see Walter as a father figure whilst Walter sees Charlie as a son. Of course the path is not smooth due to the racist issues within the town but it is sentimentally powerful and that is what this movie trades on, sentimental power built on kindness and on forgiveness rather that shocking gritty scenes although it has a few of those as well.
Now this sentimentally powerful side isn't going to be for everyone as despite the emotive subject matter it goes for happy ever after. But even if the sentimental side frustrates the performances won't with Louis Gossett Jr. once again turning in a superior performance as a man who has to face racism but does so in a mature way. You will moved by his gentle and compassionate performance but equally moved by the innocent performance of young Joseph Mazzello as Charlie. And there are other good performances as well with Don Swayze looking like he is riddled with bitter hatred to William Fichtner as the racist but conflicted sheriff.
What this all boils down to is that "High Lonesome" is not going to be for everyone as it is a sentimental and inspiring approach to an emotive subject but for those who enjoy their easy to watch afternoon TV movies this one is above average with just the right amount of grit but the sentimental side to make it appealing.