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By Bret McCabe | Posted 3/19/2008

What makes John Sayles a great artist for the slice-of-life portrait of a rural, segregated town in 1950 Alabama is what makes him so ill suited for the real fire in Honeydripper, his 16th writing/directing effort. Tyrone Purvis (Danny Glover) is an older blues piano player turned roadhouse owner losing business to the jukebox-powered joint down the way that attracts all the black field hands, young women, and military men in the area. Sayles' patient storytelling sketches this aspect of a bygone era in patient details, stopping in with the cotton pickers, the opportunist local sheriff (Stacy Keach doing Powers Booth), and Tyrone's wife, Delilah (Lisa Gay Hamilton), and her movements from her domestic job at the sheriff's house to the evangelical church to holding down kitchen duties at the bar--in short, the usual sort of Sayles cross-sectional peek at a local community. But Honeydripper is more concerned with the South's turn from acoustic to electric blues, as young guitarist loner Sonny (Gary Clark Jr.) lands in the town--lazily named Harmony--looking for work. You know where Honeydripper is going from the moment Sonny meets a blind blues guitarist (Keb Mo) who spits aphoristic wisdom: a clichéd riff of the Robert Johnson crossroads tall tale. It's not bad, but you expect a bit more from the man behind Matewan.

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