OscarÂ(r) winner* Robert Duvall stars with the legendary James Earl Jones in this powerful yet tender film from director Richard Pearce (Leap of Faith) and co-writers Billy Bob Thornton (Academy AwardÂ(r) winner** for Slin... more »g Blade) and Tom Epperson. "Fresh and thought-provoking" (Rex Reed), this touching story is steeped in life-affirming insights and down-to-earth sincerity. Duvall is Earl Pilcher, Jr., an Arkansas man who is about to discover the surprise of his life: the family he never knew he had. When he learns that he has an African-American half-brother living in Chicago, Earl heads north on a journey that will take him closer to home than he ever could have imagined. It won't be easy, though, since his brother (Jones) wants nothing to do with him. But with the help of their remarkable Aunt T (Irma P. Hall) and her simple wisdom, the men work through their long-held grudges and prejudices, gaining a greater understanding of each other andthemselves. *1983: Actor, Tender Mercies **1996: Writing (Screenplay based on Material Previously Produced or Published), Sling Blade« less
"I have to admit when I sat down to watch this movie I wasn't expecting much. After all so much has been written about crossing the color line in the USA and none of it has hit home for me, it seems that writers and film producers are afraid to tell the truth and either avoid the subject altogether or gloss it over in order to make it more palatable. However in "A Family Thing" there is no attempt to avoid the truth or gloss over the details and a story is told from the point of view of a man who one day finds out that his whole life has been built on lies. Earl Pilcher, played superbly by Robert Duvall is a white man living a white Southern life but with the death of his mother he finds that his family history is not what he thought it was. Armed with this knowledge he goes looking for his half-brother, Ray, played to perfection by the magnificent James Earl Jones, a man who has striven to bury the past, which includes his white half-brother. But Earl isn't Ray's brother for nothing and he proceeds to bulldoze his way into Ray's life and that of his bewildered family. Only the indomitable Aunt T, Irma P Hall at her crusty best is not fazed by Earl's appearance. She knows who Earl is the moment she meets him, and she's as blind as a bat to boot but filled with good Black Southern wisdom that has held her in good stead since the day her sister died not long after giving birth to Earl. This is a deliciously heart warming film with some genuinely moving and funning moments. I laughed and cried myself silly at Ray's attempt to keep Earl's identity secret from his Aunt, and Earl's shock when he goes to the supermarket with his Aunt and she tells the store owner that Earl is her nephew, and the store owner's expression because Earl is whiter than white. It's not all hearts and roses though, there are tough words spoken and violence takes place but the story glides steadily towards its gentle climax. With Ray's son grudgingly accepting Earl as his Uncle, and Ray himself coming to terms with a tragic past, the story ends with both men visiting their mother's grave and accepting each other for what and who they are. This is a brilliant film that somehow manages to convey a sense of America's colorful past that has been hidden in the shadows of history far too long. Two of the best moments in the film are the birth of Earl and how Aunt T eventually reconciles the embittered and angry brothers. This film might not be everyone's cup of tea but as yet in this genre I have yet to come across another film of such good quality. Billy Bob Thornton certainly knows how to direct films of merit."
blue-59 | Blount Springs, Alabama, United States | 04/25/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"When I looked over the video box and saw the fine cast, I rented this movie expecting some enjoyable but fluffy entertainment. However, this sleeper turned out to be a true masterpiece, easily making my list of all-time best. Within the first few minutes, Robert Duvall gives us a study in fine acting when he confronts his father with the mother's letter about their long-buried family secret. And how many people would recognize the authentic Southern slang when James Earl Jones declares, "I ain't studyin' him!"
The only flaw I can find in this picture is the jarring music that inappropriately breaks the mood to introduce the final credits. But that's the only one, a millionth of a percent. I will snap up the DVD now that it is available.
Good story, great cast, engrossing from beginning to end. So why didn't this movie receive more attention? Was it because it isn't the kind that generates huge box office receipts? Was it moviedom politics? Or did the reconciliation between brothers who grew up on different sides of the color line make the p.c. types, the ones for whom injustice and victimhood are the only valid racial topics, uncomfortable?"
Intriguing theme and two fine actors, but a bit predictable.
Linda Linguvic | New York City | 12/29/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This 1996 film has two of my favorite actors: Robert Duvall and James Earl Jones. And Billy Bob Thornton was one of the screenwriters. It also has an intriguing theme.
Robert Duval is cast as Earl Pitcher Jr, a 60 year old auto body shop owner in Arkansas. He's as southern as can be and the scene is set so well that we can almost feel the heat of the hot summer. His mother is dying and he rushes home to her bedside. A few days after the funeral, the minister comes to call. He gives Earl a letter that his mother asked to be delivered after her death. When he read the letter, his life changes forever.
The letter reveals that his mother is not really his birth mother. His real mother is an African American servant girl who was impregnated by his father. The baby was born perfectly white and the real mother died in childbirth. And so the white women raised the baby as her own. This has been a secret all these years.
In the letter, his mother reveals that the African American woman had an older child who was thought to now be a policeman in Chicago. She urges Earl to try to connect with his brother. And so, he drives his pickup truck to Chicago in order to find his black brother. That's quite a setup for a plot.
James Earl Jones is cast as his brother. And Irma P. Hall is cast as Auntie T, who is in her eighties and remembers everything. Oh, and one more thing. Auntie T is blind.
The two men meet and clearly don't like each other. And then, as Earl is leaving Chicago, his truck is carjacked and he is slightly injured. He winds up staying in James Earl Jones' house for a few days. Naturally there are complications. And this is also where the plot becomes a little predictable. There's an upbeat ending too, of course.
No matter though. The acting and concept were so good that I just couldn't stop watching. And I found myself thinking about the situation long after the film ended. Therefore, I cannot help but recommend this film."
EXCELLENT MOVIE -- A FAMILY THING
Linda Linguvic | 11/15/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"When my husband asked me to watch this with him, I was like "ok, there's nothing on cable, might as well". I wasn't really thrilled about watching it but to my surprise it is one of the BEST movies I have ever seen. Robert Duvall is super in this movie not to mention James Earl Jones. This movie really says it all "it doesn't matter your color...family is family, it's just A FAMILY THING. I give this 2 thumbs up and 5 stars."
A good movie
Linda Linguvic | 02/24/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Robert Duvall plays Earl Pilcher, a souther white man who finds out his mother is black. James Earl Jones plays his black brother. This movie is about Earl's search for his black family, and the relationship that they have after they discover each other. At first Earl has a hard time accepting the fact that he has a black mother. His relationship with his brother is shaky at first until circumstances compell them to like each other. Earl, also, has to forge a relationship with his black aunt and nephew. This movie details their struggles to uncover the truth, and to become a family. The acting is superb, and this movie is great for anybody. I highly recommend it."