Movie Magazine International

The Keeper

USA - 1995

Movie Review By Andrea Chase

Just in time for the dark days of winter comes "The Keeper," a bleak tale about good intentions gone horribly wrong. No holiday cheer here, instead, a sober tale of doing the all wrong things for all the right reasons.

Giancarlo Esposito plays a prison guard who, even after two years on the job, hasn't learned the trick of thinking that his charges are less than human. He's also studying to be a lawyer, which strikes his fellow guards as ridiculous. Let me put it this way, the prison exterminator has more respect for the vermin he eliminates than the other guards have for anyone running afoul of the criminal justice system. Esposito's in the wrong job, but he's almost succeeded in deluding himself into thinking otherwise. He doesn't realize the toll it's taking.

He becomes convinced that Jean (Isaach de Bankole), a Haitian accused of rape, is innocent, and not just because Jean attempted suicide as soon as he was locked up. Esposito posts bail for Jean and finds him a creole-speaking attorney. Eventually he gives Jean a place to stay while he awaits trial, much to the chagrin of his schoolteacher wife, played by Regina Taylor of "I'll Fly Away." Her condition for allowing Jean to take refuge with them is that Esposito never, ever leave them alone together.

What happens is something that none of them could have seen coming. Esposito's father, it turns out, was also Haitian, and Jean's presence dredges up unresolved childhood shame at his father's accent and foreigness. Taylor, on the other hand, eventually softens to Jean's quiet charm and dignity.

Esposito is terrific as a man in a downward spiral that starts imperceptably and slowly builds to a whirlwind. And so are Regina Taylor and Isaach de Bankole as the innocent bystanders caught up in the breakdown of Esposito's character.

"The Keeper" is a film that doesn't skimp on violence. It does, however, demonstrate how that violence dehumanizes each of its participants. And it uses as its framework a topic rarely discussed -- black-on-black prejudice based on class. It's both an eye-opening and thought-provoking counterpoint to the coming onslaught of seasonal saccharine.

© 1997 Andrea Chase Air Date: 11/12/97

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