Sounder is a film based on the William H. Armstrong novel of the same name. We follow the Morgan family as they survive the depression. Nathan (Paul Windfield) gets arrested for stealing food, and it’s up to his eldest son, David Lee (Kevin Hooks), and his wife, Rebecca (Cicely Tyson), to take care of their family.
The film is very grounded and simple in its storytelling. All of the characters feel like real people with real relationships. That might sound simple, but oftentimes in stories, the characters are here to present an idea and often aren’t fully developed in other ways. A perfect example is Leonardo leads, and Donatello does machines. The Ninja Turtles are four parts of one personality. Here, Nathan isn’t made to be a criminal. He’s just trying to take care of his family. You understand his motives, and even if they’re wrong, the film still shows you all sides of the character. It’s why such a simple premise is so moving.
Kevin Hooks is solid as David Lee. The love he has for his father and family is something that shines through. He is essentially our main character and holds his own with someone like Cicely Tyson. The nuance in Tyson’s performance is incredible. You see how caring and strong she is with her family, and once she has to deal with the white men in power, her tone shifts into a more serious, almost cynical tone.
The movie’s lack of a music score makes things often feel too quiet, but I honestly feel that better serves this film. It makes it feel like you’re a fly on the wall observing their lives. It was slightly jarring at first, but I learned to really love that decision as the movie went on.
The film is about love, loss, and hope. That’s something that we all need, especially in trying times. Sounder is a story that takes a basic idea and elevates it to something so much more. The film shows a family’s struggles and how they can survive those struggles with one another’s help.