Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 87% (Critics) / 70% (Audience)
Directed By: Spike Lee
Written By: Reggie Rock Bythewood
Starring: Ossie Davis, Charles S. Dutton, Hill Harper, Roger Guenveur Smith and Andre Braugher
Studio: Sony Pictures
Synopsis: The year is 1995 and a disparate group of black men are embarking on a cross country bus trip to the Louis Farrakhan organized Million Man March in Washington, D.C. in Spike Lee’s guerrilla-style docudrama.
Some of the performance stood out far above others. Ossie Davis brought a wonderful sense of gravitas to his performance as the elder statesmen of the group; offering sage advice and informative nuggets of information about the black experience as well as historical facts about black ancestry. Andre Braugher was great as the smart-mouthed, egotistical struggling actor. He provided the most amounts of tension and conflict among the group and played the role to the hilt despite not being the first actor to come to mind for me when thinking about the characteristics of the role. Isaiah Washington was really good as the combative, out gay soldier who was taking the trip with his estranged partner. Washington and Braugher brought a nice bit of chemistry to the contentious nature of their character’s interactions that culminated in a brawl on the side of the road.
But the best performance in the most limited amount of time on-screen had to be Wendell Pierce (Bunk from THE WIRE) as Wendell the black Republican Lexus dealership owner. He joined the movie midway through and wasn’t on screen (or the bus for that matter) more than 10 or so minutes but he had the best, funniest, and at times most offensive scene of the entire film:
I also found the scene where the bus gets pulled over in the South somewhere (I think it was Tennessee) by white cops and they bring drug sniffing dogs on board. After the stop and search is over there is a point where Spike Lee shoots closeups of each man’s face and the combination of anger, shame and powerlessness is the most potent part of the movie.
I don’t think that the white bus driver (played badly by Richard Belzer) was really all that necessary. I get that Lee wanted to convey the Jewish viewpoint of Farrakhan but the way it was handled was not very artful in the least.
This movie is devoid of even a hint of subtlety and that heavy-handedness is occasionally off-putting to me. Not everything has to be so literal and over explained yet the majority of the dialogue is written like a remedial screenwriter’s first project. The speech on unity at the end was another horrible idea. the speech was cloying and could have been left on the editing room floor.
Final Verdict: Shot on a limited budget and put together from beginning to end in a very short amount of time; GET ON THE BUS is a nice time capsule of a moment in history that elicited mixed emotions on behalf of the country. Looking back at some of the statements and issues the men were dealing with is illuminating and the performances are top both for the most part. There are flaws to be sure but nothing that can’t be looked past. B-