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Halle Berry is best known for her beauty queen good looks (she was a Miss USA runner up and Miss Teen USA), troubled marriage to baseball star David Justice, and a recent run in with the law, however, she has proven to be a fine, talented actress.
In this 1995 drama, Berry stars as Khaila, a drug addicted mother of a crack addicted newborn baby. Khaila's entire life revolves around getting her next hit, and the baby is just a burden. One night, she places the kid in a trash bin, so she can buy some drugs, but, unknown to Khaila, the baby is saved by garbage men.
Margaret (Jessica Lange) is a social worker trying to do the best she can in a crazy, bureaucratic system. When the little baby is brought into the hospital, barely clinging to life, Margaret takes a special interest in his recovery, falls in love with the kid, and adopts him. Two years later, baby Isaiah is happy, healthy and loves his white family. It's the only family that he knows and they have legally adopted him. That's where the trouble starts.
Thinking her child is dead, Khaila gets on the right path, finds God, changes her life, gets off drugs and finds a job. She learns that her baby is alive and decides to reclaim him. Khaila receives the aid of a local African-American activist attorney, Kader (Samuel L. Jackson), who argues that a white family should not raise an African-American child.
Will Isaiah be forced away from the only family that he knows?
Director Stephen Gyllenhall deserves credit for avoiding the obvious and trying to reach deeper into the film by creating several interesting, strong characters. I find most films about race relations to be mired in cliches and overly forced to be relevant, however, Losing Isaiah, avoids the typical black vs. white battle pitfalls by focusing on the child and the two women central to the film. Because of this focus, the film would have worked if the two women were of the same race, however, the difference in race simply adds another complexity to the case that is interesting for the audience.
However, I have to take Gyllenhall to task for some pretty cliched filmmaking early in the film. Scenes of drug use are gratuitous and seem to be a desperate scream to be shocking rather than important to the story. Also, he creates a "wrong side of the tracks" part of town that could only exist in Hollywood due to its fakeness and overly staged look. The only thing he is missing is close ups of rats scurrying around to prove that its dirty.
Another reason the film works is because of the strong acting talent involved. Samuel L. Jackson is outstanding as Kader. He is tough, proud, smart and dangerous. Jackson fills the character with the type of outrage that an activist attorney needs to fight these battles, but also makes the character as slick and sharp as any good attorney should be. Kader views Khaila as a tool in his battle, and Jackson makes that very clear. I wish we had more courtroom scenes so Jackson could show more of his ability, but, alas, we must take what we can get.
Berry does a fine job as the reformed drug addict trying to stay on the straight-and-narrow. Her opening scenes of hopeless addiction are a little forced, but she does a good job as the crusading mother fighting long odds and being pushed around by her attorney. Her scenes with Lange elevate an otherwise weak performance from usually reliable Jessica.
What was Lange thinking? She has some strange southern accent that doesn't work, especially since movie seems to be set in Chicago! Also, Lange tends to get over-dramatic to the point that her feelings don't seem real.
If the X-Men is sold out and you need to get your Halle fix, check out Losing Isaiah.
Directed by Stephen Gyllenhall
Written by Naomi Foner
Based on a novel by Seth Margolis
Halle Berry Khaila
Jessica Lange . Margaret
Samuel L. Jackson . Kader
Cuba Gooding, Jr. .. Eddie
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