HISTORY MADE ACCESSIBLE.
``Boycott,'' an occasionally powerful depiction of Martin Luther King Jr.'s role in the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott begun with Rosa Parks' courageous act of defiance, is an intriguing mix of earnest, low-key docudrama and high-energy stylistic flash.
Director Clark Johnson, working from a script by Herman Daniel Farrell III and Timothy J. Sexton, employs multiple film stocks and color tints, mixes in archival documentary footage and expressionistic imagery, has characters directly address the camera and lays anachronistic music on the soundtrack.
Often, filmmakers pile on the flourishes if they don't completely trust their material and want to divert audiences from the flimsiness thereof. Johnson, on the other hand, is clearly trying to make his material accessible to younger viewers, who might otherwise avoid a stodgier re-creation of this pivotal moment in American civil-rights history. The attitude and the edge indeed give the material a vibrant immediacy, which helps since its depiction of King is thoughtful and goes easy on the bravado.
Jeffrey Wright compellingly essays King - he's the charismatic, resolute leader when he needs to be - but what's impressive about Wright's performance is how frequently small and quiet and reactive he allows his character to be. As depicted here, King's not exactly a reluctant hero, but he is a man who didn't exactly seek heroism out. Once the opportunity to lead was handed to him, however, he scarcely looked back despite the hardships and persecution that confounded him at virtually every turn.
The Montgomery bus boycott lasted more than a year and ultimately wound up in the Supreme Court, where segregation laws were struck down. The film boasts some tensely contentious meetings between King's Montgomery Improvement Association and the all-white City Council, though it does stack the deck a bit by portraying all whites in power as unlearned rednecks with corn-pone accents (there isn't a white who doesn't pronounce ``Negro'' as ``nigra''), while King's contingent are all well-spoken.
But unlike a lot of civil-rights dramas, it doesn't lapse over into overheated melodrama and egregious stereotyping. ``Boycott'' hits its grace notes, it makes its points; it would be solid drama without its bids for style points.
What: Docudrama on Martin Luther King's role in the Montgomery bus boycott.
The stars: Jeffrey Wright, Terrence Howard, CCH Pounder, Carmen Ejogo.
When: 9 tonight; also Tuesday, March 4, 8, 14, 17, 19 and 29.
Our rating: Three stars
Photo: Jeffrey Wright stars as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the HBO movie ``Boycott.''