Independent writer/director John Sayles is one of our most cinematic storytellers with Eight Men Out, Return of the Secaucus Seven, Matewan, The Secret of Roan Inish, Lone Star and Sunshine State, among others.
This observant tale is set in 1950, just outside rural Harmony, Alabama, where two mythical nightclubs sit at the crossroads. Former piano-man Tyrone Pinetop Purvis (Danny Glover) runs the Honeydripper, featuring aging blues singers like Bertha Mae (Mable John). But he cant seem to attract customers unlike his rival, Old Man Toussaint (James Crittenden), who packs em in next-door with a well-stocked jukebox.
Purvis will lose his dilapidated roadhouse unless he can come up with mortgage money quickly, so he arranges to import New Orleans sensation Guitar Sam for a one-night-only show. But everything seems to go wrong. Not only is his wife and chief cook, Delilah (Lisa Gay Hamilton), falling more and more under the influence of charismatic Pentecostal preacher Cutlip (Albert Hall), who condemns drinking and dancing, but his 17 year-old step-daughter, China Doll (Yaya DaCosta), is smitten by a drifter (Gary Clark Jr.) with an electric guitar. And theres the question of whether Guitar Sam will show up. Hovering ominously is Sheriff Pugh (Stacy Keach) whos taken a fancy to Delilahs drumsticks, among other things.
Sayles talk-heavy plot serves as structure for atmosphere-drenched, folkloric vignettes that delineate racism in that time in that place. Theres Delilahs condescending employer, Miss Amanda (Mary Steenburgen); the hefty seamstress Nadine (Davenia McFadden), whos attracted to Purvis easygoing pal Maceo (Charles S. Dutton); bickering cotton-pickers (Eric L. Abrams, Sean Patrick Thomas); and the blind bluesman (Keb Mo) who serves as Purviss guilty conscience.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Honeydripper is an evocative 8 with a rockin soundtrack.