Till: Shocking, Slow, and Surreal

Charlie von Peterffy ‘24 / Entertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Till tells the story of 14-year-old Emmet Louis “Bobo” Till’s brutal murder on August 28th, 1955. By framing the story from the perspective of his mother, Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley (Danielle Deadwyler), the film emphasizes how his death affects her. It also shows how her decision to publicize his death ripples across the U.S., sparking new civil rights movements and much-needed discussions. It deals with themes of grief, racism, and basic decency, showing how a single death can have severe effects on entire communities.

The story, for the most part, is excellent. While it occasionally slips into snoozy territory with filler dialogue and hollow melodrama, it otherwise soars. It greatly retells the shock of the murder, emphasizing the pain experienced by Till’s loved ones while maintaining the nationwide horror that his death brought. What primarily drives the story is Deadwyler’s performance. With little experience before this film, Deadwyler is a relatively new face in Hollywood. She not only proves herself to be a strong force but gives one of the best performances of the year. If not for her, the story would be flat, and the film’s messages would not have come across successfully.

The rest of the cast is also excellent. They present a fascinating mix of emotions, creating exciting dynamics and charismatic entities that deepen the film’s narrative. It is worth mentioning how well Jalyn Hill portrays Emmet Till’s  innocent, cheery personality. His performance brings the devastation of Till’s murder to life even with the tiny bit of screentime he has, as viewers see how unnecessary and twisted his death is.

The characters themselves, unfortunately, could use a lot of work. The film focuses much of its time on how Till-Mobley handles her son’s death, But these scenes do not fit together well.  Because the film deals with many themes and issues that Till’s death reveals, it scrambles to tie these different components together. As a result, instead of getting characters with seamless, important arcs, the film presents a blocky attempt at representing its overstuffed plate. This scrambled approach to the film’s subject makes the characters feel two-dimensional, glossed over to prioritize the nation’s reactions to Till’s death. With more time devoted to the individual characters, the film would be all the more impactful and less murky.

The visuals are also superb. This film’s most outstanding visual feat is recreating the devastating image of Till’s bloated, nearly unrecognizable corpse. The makeup used to coat Hill’s body gets this image across perfectly, further intensifying the impact his death has. Other aspects of the film, like the cinematography and general shooting techniques, are also solid, but they do not offer anything unique.

Till successfully recreates the murder of Emmet Till. It translates the shock his death has on the nation in a brutally direct fashion, illustrating his death’s ripples on civil rights activism and debate. However, it could have and should have utilized its star power and leading players more thoroughly, as right now, they feel sidelined in this crowded, slightly disconcerted narrative. Fortunately, the film’s enticing performances and fully revealing approach help disguise these issues, making for an emotionally rich viewing experience.

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