To Kill a Mockingbird

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Bob Smithouser

Movie Review

The scourge of racial hatred. In To Kill a Mockingbird, a small southern town ravaged by the Depression is unknowingly riddled with this even more devastating disease. And one lone soul is prepared to make the diagnosis. This 1962 classic based on Harper Lee’s novel is one of the most powerful arguments against racism ever put on screen.

At the center of the story is one man. A model citizen. A dedicated lawyer of impeccable integrity. A widower committed to loving and building character in his two children. A master of patience, diplomacy, loyalty, compassion, humility and self-control. His name is Atticus Finch. Gregory Peck earned an Oscar for his portrayal of Atticus, a gentle man whose sense of justice is superceded only by his role as a father. He cares less about popularity than about doing what’s right and earning the respect of his adoring offspring.

Atticus possesses a servant’s heart. When a black man named Tom Robinson finds himself accused of raping a white woman, Atticus accepts the case despite the “ugly talk” he knows will follow him around town. He firmly believes Tom’s innocence and crafts a brilliant defense. But will the all-white jury be able to set aside racial prejudice and rule on the evidence? The trial—and its cast of characters—will inspire deep and meaningful family discussion.

This leisurely paced character study also focuses on Atticus’ son, Jem, and tomboy daughter, Scout. In fact, much of the action is seen through their innocent eyes. The children learn valuable lessons about respecting others, obedience, the importance of an education, finding the good in folks, looking out for each other—and why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird. The result is an entertaining, deeply moving drama with warmth, passion and a sense of humor. Though a racial slur surfaces occasionally, its use is clearly condemned.

This timeless tool for imparting values to young viewers is a prime example of what cinema, at its best, can achieve. And few screen heroes provide as good a role model as Atticus Finch.

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Bob Smithouser