Toronto Film Festival 2023: Rustin
Director: George C. Wolfe
Writers: Julian Breece, Dustin Lance Black
Starring: Colman Domingo, Chris Rock, Glynn Turman, Amel Ameen, Gus Halper, Johnny Ramey, CCH Pounder
Runtime: 1 Hour 46 Minutes
If there's one thing to take away from Rustin it's that Colman Domingo was the perfect casting choice to play Civil Rights activist Bayard Rustin. For all the flaws of the movie and script (and there are many), Domingo is not one of them. If anything, his performance only serves to be a reminder of how frustrating this movie is. To have a performance like the one that Domingo puts in and then have a script that is uneven and wastes the talents of not only the lead but many of the other outstanding performers in the film is just a cardinal sin of film making.
The biggest problem with Rustin is that there is a fundamental identity crisis in terms of what the focus of this movie should be. Should it be more of a biopic of Bayard Rustin or should it be more about the overall Civil Rights movement, specifically how the March on Washington came about? One can feel the struggle for this film to find its purpose and the worst part is, by not picking an identity, it fails to provide enough substance on either front. Rustin falls into the same trap that a lot of films about Black Civil Rights icons fall into in that it provides a safe, watered down, white-critic friendly view of a subject that is not safe, is complex and in reality should make an audience feel uncomfortable. Every time it seems that Rustin is about to go into a subject that might be a bit more edgy, the film rushes by it in order to get to the next scene. It's as if this film is on rails and does not want the audience to stray too far from the approved movie narrative. This not only does Colman Domingo a disservice but also great performers like Glynn Turman and CCH Pounder who do the best with the script they were given but could have done so much more. It also does a disservice to the real life heroes they are portraying.
Rustin is worth checking out for Domingo's performance. But its flaws also make it easily forgettable. Listen as Kriss & Ro talk about Rustin and what worked/didn't work for them.
Watch Rustin on Netflix on November 3rd.
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