It’s always good to get a little entertainment mixed in while you are being educated — or is it the other way around? Either way, “The Least Among You” works on both levels.
Written and directed by Mark Young and based on a true story, the movie depicts the struggles and triumphs of Richard Kelly (Cedric Sanders), a young black man who was arrested during the 1965 Watts riots. Kelly (who is based on the Rev. Dr. Charles Marks) is forced to serve his probation in an all-white seminary. The seminary’s president wants the young man to break the institution’s color barriers — which is not a task that interests Kelly, who wants only to serve his time and get on with his life.
While it is not without its faults, “The Least Among You” is a skillfully-made movie full of moving performances — highlighted by those turned in by Lauren Holly (“NCIS”), William Devane (“Knots Landing”) and Louis Gossett Jr. (“An Officer and a Gentleman”).
Holly gives a well-nuanced performance as Kate Allison, a former missionary who wants little to do with Richard initially. She gradually changes course (as you might anticipate), but her transition doesn’t feel forced. Devane and Gossett Jr. are a pair of old reliables and their performances are well-grounded. Devane, who has that unmistakable voice, plays a charmer you can’t quite trust and does so to perfection. His character makes some tough decisions later in the movie and Devane does a terrific job of making us understand why he does what he does, even if we can’t go along with him. Gossett Jr. takes a cliche of a role — the elderly black janitor who imparts wisdom to a student — and runs with it. The actor’s voice and eyes combine to show that he is a man who has seen it all.
On the plus side, “The Least Among You” moves at a brisk pace. It also never gets too preachy — no small feat for a movie like this. Young’s direction is clear and concise.
On the downside, the movie is a little too tidy in tying up some loose strings. In addition, I never really felt like I was watching a movie that took place in the ’60s — everything looked a touch too contemporary. Luckily, however, the movie’s overall story of dreams vs. destiny is timeless, so it’s a minor concern.
In the end, “The Least Among You” is the story of a man who is forced to be a leader when he doesn’t want the role, but who finally learns that he was born for the job. It’s a story worth telling and I’m glad I it was told.
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