The character actress Crystal Fox has been in the game a long time, including her feature film debut as Katie Bell in “Driving Miss Daisy” and a regular role on the TV series “In the Heat of the Night.”
Finally, for the first time, Ms. Fox has been given a lead role. She’s front and center in the Netflix legal thriller “Tyler Perry’s A Fall From Grace” — and she nails it every step of the way.
Perry is the writer, director, producer and co-star of “A Fall from Grace,” which was filmed at Tyler Perry Studios, so it would be a massive understatement to say he’s the architect of the film — but high praise is also due to the stellar cast, which includes remarkable veterans Cicely Tyson and Phylicia Rashad as well as some terrific young actors.
That this movie was shot in just five days just before Christmas at Tyler’s recently opened, Atlanta-based filming complex is pretty crazy, given the quality of the production. (More on that later.)
But what matters most is whether you should spend your money (or your streaming time) on a movie. To that end, “A Fall from Grace” is a lurid treat of a thriller, with some sharp turns you might see coming a mile away — and at least a couple of twists sure to rock you back in your seat.
Sure, it’s a bit of a bumpy journey, and a handful of “reveals” are delivered with all the subtlety of a 1970s TV detective show, but even the hokey stuff has its entertainment value.
When we meet Fox’s Grace Waters, she’s behind bars and accused of murder. Although Grace is a pillar of the community and has never had so much as a traffic ticket, everyone in town is convinced she did it.
Bresha Webb is essentially the co-lead of the film as Jasmine Bryant, a 26-year-old in the public defender’s office who has been assigned the case by her gruff, no-nonsense boss Rory (Perry).
Jasmine has never actually tried a case. Her thing is getting the best possible plea bargain. But the more Jasmine talks to Grace, the more Grace opens up — and the more Jasmine wonders if there’s more to this seemingly open-and-shut case.
We learn about the events of the case in flashbacks, with Grace providing the voice-over narration.
Grace has never recovered from her husband divorcing her seven years earlier for a younger woman. She has a good job at a bank and she’s bought her own house, but she’s long past the point of believing she’ll find love, and is resigned to living out her days alone.
Phylicia Rashad’s Sarah, who is Grace’s best friend, is having none of that. Sarah encourages Grace to live a little, and she’s particularly encouraging when Grace meets Shannon (Mehcad Brooks), who’s a half-generation younger than Grace and is instantly smitten.
Oh, does Shannon have game. He’s a brilliant photographer and a gorgeous, sensitive guy who’s built like a defensive back but talks like a poet. He’s a charmer with a blue Mercedes and a seemingly bottomless wardrobe of stylish outfits. He’s so nice and sincere!
It’s almost as if this guy is too good to be true.
Grace is understandably skeptical and keeps on asking, “Why me?” She withholds her affections for a while — but within months, they’re married.
Let’s just say the honeymoon is short-lived.
As the story of Grace and Shannon unfolds, we often return to present day. With Jasmine’s encouragement, Grace reverses her position and says she wants to go to trial, much to the frustration of Jasmine’s boss, who only wants this case to go away.
We get the obligatory courtroom scene when the judge warns Jasmine he’ll hold her in contempt if she keeps on pushing it. And the use of montages to speed up the trial sequence results in some startling developments, e.g., when the prosecutor notes in his closing argument some 45 eyewitnesses have testified against Grace.
FORTY-FIVE? The alleged crime wasn’t committed in a crowded coffee shop; it took place in a private home.
The five-day shooting schedule most likely contributed to some mildly problematic moments. At one point, Rory instructs Jasmine to do something she’s already done. And in a diner scene, one of the extras is apparently so mesmerized by being in a movie, he’s just holding his fork near his entrée in every shot. (But even that was kinda great, as I found myself rooting for Mister Background Extra Man to take a bite.)
On balance, though, the production values are impressive — as are the universally strong performances from the main cast.
Bresha Webb has been in movies and on TV for more than a decade, but her performance here indicates her best work lies ahead. It would be a shock if Cicely Tyson and Phylicia Rashad WEREN’T great.
Best of all is seeing Crystal Fox getting her moment in the spotlight and absolutely shining.