HK and Cult Film News's Fan Box

Thursday, August 7, 2014

PROUD -- movie review by porfle

(This review was originally posted at in 2006.)

As a history lesson, PROUD (2004) serves its purpose pretty well. But as a movie, it's about as exciting as one of those educational films they used to make you suffer through in school.

As our story opens, we find grumpy old grampa Ossie Davis awakened by some of that awful hippity-hoppity music his visiting grandson Larry and his two friends are playing in the living room. He drags himself out of bed to wander in there and yell at them, and to tell them that the noise they've been listening to isn't real music and that they should listen to some of his old blues records because this singer that he likes from the old days could sing the blues like nobody else. So he orders Larry to go fetch his old record player and makes them listen to one of his records, and sure enough, the blues singer that Grampa likes so much really does sing the blues like nobody else, which is good because she's freakin' horrible.

But that doesn't matter, because while grabbing the record player Larry also digs out Grampa's old World War II scrapbook that tells of his service on the USS Mason, a warship with an all-black crew. How, asks one of the persnippity youngsters, could he have fought for a country that had such a history of prejudice against his race? To which Grampa responds that he was fighting for his home and his people, and that for better or worse America is his home and he is proud (key word there) to have have helped defend it.

 Tell us more, Grampa!, the young whippersnappers excitedly urge as a sudden thirst for knowledge overwhelms them, and before you know it Grampa is happily strolling down memory lane toward the foggy banks of flashback-land.

We next see the young Grampa (whose actual name is Lorenzo DuFau) in a Navy uniform with his two best buddies, Skinny and James, serving aboard the USS Mason along with their other black shipmates. Right away we are shown how the crew are treated as second-class sailors or worse (the ship's chief is an especially huge jackass), and how some enraged dockworkers almost storm the ship after seeing the black sailors dancing with some white female USO entertainers.

The Navy itself looks down upon the Mason as an "experiment" that will probably fail, expecting the all-black crew to jump overboard at the first sign of danger. But as history shows (yes, this is a true story) this was hardly the case, as the crew of the USS Mason performed with valor in a number of hazardous situations.

The trouble with PROUD, unfortunately, is that these potentially exciting experiences are depicted with about as much dramatic impact as a film strip. The camera angles for the scenes on the USS Mason's deck are obviously designed to hide the fact that they are all filmed on a stationary ship, and these are intercut with actual black-and-white WWII footage and clips from old movies, which only emphasizes the static, artificial look of the new scenes.

Just when it appears that we're about to see something exciting, as when the ship encounters a German U-boat that fires a torpedo at them, all we get are a few tense close-ups, some black-and-white stock footage of a torpedo going by, and Grampa's voiceover announcing, "We DID it! We outsmarted that U-boat! And that torpedo went right by us."

 Later, a sequence showing the Mason trying to stay afloat during a fierce storm on the Atlantic while leading a convoy to England is similarly deflated before it even begins to pick up steam. A few tense looks, some stock footage of a storm-swept ship, and it's frustratingly over. It's like movie night at the old folks' home, as though the filmmakers were afraid a little excitment might be bad for our digestion or something.

There's a sequence in which the ship docks in Ireland, and Lorenzo and the gang are denied shore leave until their sympathetic captain ignores his orders and lets them go. There, they are treated with respect and regarded simply as "Yanks." They go to a pub where they are given free pints of dark, yucky ale -- which they seem to like more and more with each refill -- and meet up with Barney (Stephen Rea, best known as the guy who got such an eye-opening surprise in THE CRYING GAME), who takes them to a party with lots of traditional Irish singing and dancing.

During a stirring rendition of "Danny Boy", Barney encourages James to go AWOL and stay in Ireland, never having to return to America again and suffer the racism that he has faced previously. This sounds great to James at the time and he takes off. As the clock ticks toward the deadline for them to make it back to the ship, Lorenzo -- that's young Grampa, remember -- and Skinny go cross-country in search of James, and for a few moments it seems as though this subplot will develop into something suspenseful. But then they find James. And go back to the ship. And that's it.

Later, they get some time off in America and visit Skinny's mother (Denise Nicholas) and sister. James falls in love with the sister and they get married. During the post-nuptial party the radio announces that Germany has surrendered. Everyone sorta goes "Yaaa-aay." And after a while the flashback segment of the movie finally fizzles out, since all the main story points have been duly laid out for us in as perfunctory a manner as possible.

When we return to the present, we find that Larry has become all fired up by Grampa's stirring tales of heroism and vows to petition the Navy to finally grant the crew of the USS Mason the recognition they deserve. It turns out that Larry's dad knows a senator who might be able to help them, but Larry's dad is mad at Grampa for not giving him enough Dad-time when he was a kid.

However, this subplot gets worked out before we're in any danger of getting excited about it, and we finally get to see a ceremony in which Grampa and his crewmates are given an official commendation by the US Navy, whose negligence in appreciating their valiant efforts is rectified at last.

There's even some actual footage at the end showing President Clinton with the real-life Lorenzo DuFau and other surviving members of the USS Mason's crew on board a new ship that has been given the same name in their honor.

PROUD, written and directed by Mary Pat Kelly and based on her book, "Proudly We Served", was Ossie Davis' last movie, and he turns in his usual strong performance as the older Lorenzo DuFau. My guess is that he believed strongly in this project, and intended it to enlighten more than to entertain -- which it does -- so he'd probably be happy to have it as his swan song. I'm certainly glad to have learned the story of the USS Mason and her crew.

But cinematically, PROUD is a dull, lifeless experience. It makes the perilous adventures these men had on the high seas during WWII seem about as thrilling as one of the slower episodes of "The Waltons", and as dry as a history textbook. And while I watched it, I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn't going to be tested on it later.


No comments: