"It may not have the power of the aforementioned films, but none the less asks some smart questions about the country in which it is set"
That racial tension has been running through America for years is no great secret, and now with the White House’s current incumbent making the subject even more widely debated, cinema seems to be reflecting the current social climate. In 2017 we had both the documentary I Am Not Your Negro and the critically lauded Get Out and in such a vein comes Ben Caird’s more understated Halfway.
When it opens we meet Byron (Quinton Aaron) a big, black man who is just getting out of prison. He has a quiet, softly spoken nature about him with a sad sense of acceptance to his situation rather than anger towards it.
As part of his parole, he goes to live and work on a farm in Wisconsin, owned by his distant relatives. His very appearance is a shock to the white community who are either wary of him or outwardly prejudiced. While he is invited back in to a life of crime by previous acquaintances, he tries to steer clear. Yet he is caught in the halfway of the title between a somewhat meandering existence in an institutionally and overtly racist community and the risks and dangers that a life of crime entails. Either way, he is trapped and betrayed by the American dream.
Equally though, those he co-habits with are stuck in the downtrodden American heartland – dysfunctional and financially unstable, with some being prone to drug abuse, drink-driving and unplanned pregnancy.
It’s a downward look on the USA although as director Ben Caird drip-feeds the slow-burning plot, it evolves into something of a redemption story. Byron realises that perhaps he can be of some good and some help to those who the system had designed to help him.
A final plot point that takes the film into its climactic act brings the two contrasting elements of the film together in a somewhat contrived fashion, but Caird manages to steer clear of melodrama or a genre-switch that would have felt at odds with that which had preceded it.
That it doesn’t results in a consistent and smart piece of work. It may not have the power of the aforementioned films, but none the less asks some smart questions about the country in which it is set, for which there often aren’t easy answers.