Divided After Death
Early on the 8th June 1998 Sheriff Billy Rowles (Jon Voight) is called to a crime scene, a horrible crime scene as the body of James Byrd, Jr. is discovered on the road. It doesn't take long for Rowles and his men to uncover the grizzly truth of what happened and arrest the three men responsible for Byrd's murder. But the trouble is not over as not only has this act of racism stoked up emotion in the town of Jasper, Texas but brought the media, the Ku Klux Klan and the Black Panther's into the town stoking things up further. As friends start to turn on each other Mayor R.C. Horn (Louis Gossett, Jr.) and Sheriff Billy Rowles find them selves facing the biggest challenges of their careers, to quell the rising unrest within their community before things get out of hand.
First things first and I know nothing of the true story of James Byrd, Jr and his gruesome murder which happened on the 7th June 1998, well other than what I have learned in the process of watching Jasper, Texas. As such I don't know how much fact and fiction there is in this made for TV drama but it appears to go for two things when it comes to the portrayal of the murder and that is hard hitting but respectful. So we are presented with some uncomfortable scenes, not just of a dead body but what was essentially a lynching when the man was chained behind a truck and dragged along a road, but at the same time it doesn't revel in the gore, just lays it out to make the desired impact.
But for me what is the real focus of "Jasper, Texas" is what happens next as Rowles and Horn find the peaceful town of Jasper thrown in to the limelight due to what happened with the media swarming in to cover every aspect of the case especially with its racial motivation. But we also see how this also brings in the Ku Klux Klan and the Black Panther's leading to the continual increasing tension within the community and Rowles and Horn struggling to deal with things.
The trouble is that whilst the movies motivation is good and does a good job of making the audience feel sick over racism it fails to bring the depth to the story which in truth it needs. In a way it reminded me of the 1950s movie "The Well" as it focused on the unrest which started to build in the community. As such and I hope I am wrong it feels like those behind "Jasper, Texas" have taken a very powerful true story and used it to tell a standard story relying heavily on the performances of its cast with Jon Voight and Louis Gossett, Jr. delivering solid performances in the midst of a surprisingly big cast. That is another issue as with so many characters it fails to introduce them to us in such a way we can make sense of their part and motivations.
What this all boils down to is that the true story behind "Jasper, Texas" is a powerful one, a much more powerful one than the actual movie which whilst having an important message fails to have the depth as it spreads itself too thinly.