A Family Thing

A Family Thing

1996, PG, 109 min. Directed by Richard Pearce. Starring Robert Duvall, James Earl Jones, Irma P. Hall, Michael Beach, Regina Taylor, Grace Zabriskie.

REVIEWED By Alison Macor, Fri., March 29, 1996

Picture this. A white man in his 60s, born and bred in Arkansas, learns on his mother's deathbed that she is not his biological mother. Not only is she not his “real” mother, but his biological mother was their black nanny, raped by his father. Earl (Duvall) is the result of this rape, and to add insult to injury, his biological mother died during his birth. She left behind not one but two sons, and A Family Thing by Richard Pearce (Leap of Faith,Country) tells Earl's story as he leaves Arkansas for Chicago in order to find his brother Roy (Jones), who is a retired Chicago police officer, and perhaps to make sense of a history he never knew. A Family Thing's well-intentioned script, co-written by Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson, tries very hard to maintain a balance of humor and melodrama. Sometimes this works. With acting legends Duvall and Jones in the lead roles, the story stays afloat, but occasionally these actors seem to be lurching around in a script that's too “small” for them. At times the film seems only to be hitting its (often clichéd) marks as it traces Earl's treacherous arrival in Chicago, where he gets his car stolen by a group of black teenagers, to his inculcation into Roy's life and “their” family. The truly pleasurable moments in A Family Thing are often thanks to Irma P. Hall, making her film debut as the brothers' old Aunt T. -- blind as a bat but wiser than all of Chicago. “You were born out of wrong,” she says as she tells Earl the story of his birth. With her humor and wisdom she begins to close the gap between the brothers, allowing them to move beyond the pain in their family history toward an appreciation of their unusual family tree. Pearce and company keep the film open-ended, leaving Earl and Roy's story on a hopeful note. So, in spite of its sometimes lumbering script, A Family Thing definitely qualifies as the next feel-good movie of the Nineties.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Robert Duvall Films
Widows
Viola Davis leads an efficient heist that rarely blows the doors off

Marjorie Baumgarten, Nov. 16, 2018

The Judge
This drama starring Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall sounds better on paper than it is in practice.

Marjorie Baumgarten, Oct. 10, 2014

More by Alison Macor
'The Last Supper'
'The Last Supper'
'Chainsaws, Slackers, and Spy Kids: 30 Years of Filmmaking in Austin, Texas': an excerpt

Feb. 26, 2010

The First Wives Club

Sept. 20, 1996

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

A Family Thing, Richard Pearce, Robert Duvall, James Earl Jones, Irma P. Hall, Michael Beach, Regina Taylor, Grace Zabriskie

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle