The real tragedy of writer-director Krystin Ver Linden‘s “Alice” is one of missed opportunity. The story of a female slave who escapes her plantation and discovers the year is actually 1973 is a crackerjack premise for a film, but the finished project is a misstep and a lost chance to do something bold, different, and meaningful.
Alice (Keke Palmer) is enslaved on a plantation in rural Georgia. She does as she’s told, but suffers abuse at the hands of her brutal owner (Jonny Lee Miller). After another violent night, Alice manages to escape and sets off on foot. After running through the neighboring woods, she stumbles out to an unfamiliar sight: a busy highway. Truck driver Frank (Common) takes her into town to get help, assuming the woman has amnesia. He’s shocked to learn that Alice has no idea that black people are free and slavery is no more.
Despite an impassioned performance from Palmer, there is a lot that doesn’t work here. The biggest problem is that it feels like two films in one: a historical drama about the horrors of slavery, then a Blacksploitation-style revenge fantasy. These elements exist at extreme polar opposites, which causes Ver Linden’s fable to feel disjointed and ineffective. A complex story like this is better suited for a longer format like a limited television series. There is a lot of material to cover in two hours, and the hurried storytelling does the film no favors. We are supposed to believe that Alice goes from being owned by a white family, being physically abused and forced to work, to a fearless, confident civil rights activist in just a few days? She didn’t even know what a car was, but after watching television and reading newspapers she’s ready to take on the world? Come on.
I really wanted to love “Alice,” and I think there is a terrific movie somewhere inside just waiting to get out. The squandered premise is a shame and unfortunately, this one falls short.
By: Louisa Moore