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A Painted House Reviews

Set in 1952, Mexican auteur Alfonso (LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE) Arau's made-for-TV slice of Americana examines social distinctions and intra-class prejudice in the rural south. Times are tough for Arkansas delta farmers like Eli "Pappy" Chandler (Scott Glenn) and his son, Jesse (Robert Sean Leonard), but they hire hill people like the Spruills, who are even worse off, to pick their crops. Although Mr. Spruill (Geoffrey Lewis) recognizes the piece-work as a way to feed his family, his hot-tempered son, Hank (Pablo Schreiber), resents toiling for land-owners – even marginal "sodbusters" like the Chandlers. Jesse’s 10-year-old, Luke (Logan Lerman), hasn't yet developed a chip on his shoulder and is equally at home with townspeople, the itinerant Spruills and Mexican migrants like Cowboy (Luis Esteban Garcia); when Hank makes a dig about the Chandler’s ratty-looking house, Luke simply decides to paint it. But his goal is impractical: Weather reversals make harvesting the Chandlers’ cotton as quickly as possible a higher priority than home improvements. Meanwhile, Tally Spruill (Audrey Marie Anderson) starts keeping company with Cowboy, and Hank takes the opportunity to challenge him to a no-holds-barred fight. Luke sees Cowboy stab Hank in self-defense, but his pragmatic family advises him to keep quiet and give the Spruills time to clear out. Then the rainy weather forces Eli to lay off his Mexican laborers – should Jessie take a job up North to save the farm and split up the family unit? John Grisham left the courtroom for Steinbeck country in his well-received literary change of pace, but the movie version fails to capture his delicate way of filtering subsistence-level realities through Luke’s innocent purview translation.