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A new talent dawns 

Adams’ ‘Come Early Moring’ soars.

JUDD: Her best role to date.
  • JUDD: Her best role to date.

“Come Early Morning,” the filmmaking debut of North Little Rock native Joey Lauren Adams, returns Ashley Judd to a familiar place: the heart of the Southern working class.

Judd began her career as a Florida souvenir store clerk in 1993’s “Ruby in Paradise,” a film that earned her critical acclaim and propelled her onto the acting scene. She followed that up with strong supporting turns in “Heat” and “A Time to Kill.” But over the past decade, Judd has generated several misses, notably the recent “De-Lovely” and “Twisted.” I was becoming concerned that her career was in an Affleck-like down spiral perpetuated by poor choice after poor choice.

But, my concerns have been put to rest. She’s earned her stripes with this performance. It is the finest of her career.

Judd plays Lucy Fowler, a contractor in small-town Arkansas. By day she works on a construction site and by night she drinks heavily in a bar while going to bed with a different man each night. This destructive pattern is not surprising considering Lucy’s background. She has an uncommunicative father (Scott Wilson) who was a philanderer himself. Their relationship is odd and complex — one minute they’re attending church together, the next she’s banging on his front door in a drunken rage begging for him to open up.

Lucy lives with her friend, Kim (Laura Pepron), who cautiously concerns herself with Lucy’s behavior. These two women are different. Kim longs for the day when a man to whom she’s given her number calls. Lucy hopes they do not. In a sad and honest exchange Lucy barks “don’t you ever get sick of waiting for them to call?” to which Kim retorts “don’t you ever get sick of not?”

Lucy isn’t helped by the relationship of one set of grandparents (Diane Ladd and the late Pat Corley) who despise each other, but have remained married. They insult each other so often it’s as if they’re in an endless game of hate Catch Phrase. But they’ve each become so immune to the insults that they no longer serve a purpose. It’s what happens when you become old and tired and out of love, I suppose.

Lucy also spends time taking care of her other grandmother, played by local actress Candyce Hinkle.

Enter Cal (Jeffery Donovan) a newcomer who swoops in to steal Lucy’s heart. Cal’s a simple guy, working as a roofer during the day and living in a small guest house on his aunt’s property. But he’s a nice guy too, which means he cares when Lucy tries to sneak away in the morning. He offers her frogs legs and dates and an invitation to paint model cars as the way into her heart. And it just might work in spite of her past and her strong defenses.

“Come Early Morning” was filmed in North Little Rock and many of the places will be familiar to residents of central Arkansas, including the Forge, where Lucy spends her beer-filled nights. At times Adams’ depiction of life in the working-class South is a bit overcooked, but this film is an accomplishment, particularly for a first effort. The dialogue is sharp and real and the story, while simple, soars. The music, with some local flavor, is tasty.

— Blake Rutherford

‘Diamond’ is a gem

As a moviegoer, I love this time of year. It’s Oscar season, which means the studios are rolling out their shiny new hot rods — vehicles, lately, for conscience movies that show the cost of western lifestyles.

This year’s Oscar-targeting conscience nibbler is the wrenchingly effective “Blood Diamond.” Focusing on the illegal trade in diamonds from some of the most war-torn areas of Africa, it’s a film that will have you questioning why you want that big sparkler on your finger, and how many people had to suffer for you to get it.

Filmed in Africa, “Blood Diamond” is the story of Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou), a simple fisherman from Sierra Leone, who dreams that his son, Dia (Kagiso Kuypers), will be a doctor someday. That dream is smashed, however, when rebels descend on his village, killing and maiming the inhabitants. Vandy is sent off to work as a slave in the illegal diamond mines, while 10-year-old Dia is kidnapped and indoctrinated as one of Africa’s “boy soldiers” — armies of children, not much bigger than the machine guns they carry.

While in the mines, Vandy is cleaning out a pump inlet one day when he comes across something amazing: a 100-carat pink diamond as big as your thumb. Knowing that it could buy freedom in the West for him and his scattered family, Vandy buries the stone. Soon after, he is captured by government forces.

While in a holding cell, Vandy meets Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio), a soulless mercenary and diamond smuggler. Archer soon learns of Vandy’s diamond and makes him a promise: He will help Vandy rescue his son in exchange for the stone. From there, as the country descends into civil war, the pair sets off for the riverbank where Vandy buried the diamond.

Hounsou and DiCaprio are stunningly good together as men thrust together by need and circumstance. Hounsou manages to outshine even DiCaprio, who is slowly growing into his place as the Brando of our generation. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if both received an Oscar nod for their performances, in a film that seems a clear front-runner for best picture.

Even more important than the performances is the overall power of “Blood Diamond” — one of those rare films where everything seems to drop into place to create a really moving piece of cinema. While we’ve seen its theme before and you kinda know how it’s all going to turn out from pretty much the first frame, the combination of spectacular acting, gorgeous cinematography, a genuinely heartfelt script and a ripped-from-the-headlines plot is enough to give “Blood Diamond” that extra push it needs to get to movie heaven.

It’s a modern classic — one that fans will remember and talk about for years to come.

— David Koon

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