After a shocker of a prologue, "Woman, Thou Art Loosed" cuts to a preacher visiting a young woman on death row in an unnamed prison. The minister is the real thing, Bishop T.D. Jakes, and three years ago Time magazine put him on its cover as "America's best preacher." This powerful picture, which Stan Foster adapted from Jakes' novel, is the real thing too, showing just how rape can damage a child for life.
The bishop's visits to a young inmate, Michelle Jordan (Kimberly Elise), trigger flashbacks that tell her story. This approach robs the narrative of considerable suspense and is a little awkward as well, but the inherent strength of the material and the cast's performances of considerable range and depth under Michael Schultz's well-controlled direction largely overcome this structural challenge.
At age 8, Michelle (Jordan Moseley) is a bright, pretty girl who dreams of being a star but feels neglected by her single mother, Cassie (Loretta Devine), who introduces her to a seemingly endless series of "uncles" she never sees twice. Uncle Reggie (Clifton Powell), however, is different. He sees in Cassie a permanent meal ticket -- and in Michelle a girl who will ripen in a couple of years. The seemingly inevitable happens when Michelle reaches 12.
It's a classic situation but one that is rarely confronted with such candor and clarity and such credibly defined relationships. Cassie, eager to hold on to her lover even if he's a deadbeat, goes into denial when her distraught and horror-stricken daughter tells her how Reggie raped her. Feeling traumatized, betrayed and rejected by her mother in favor of Reggie, the damaged Michelle, as she grows older, ends up in a life of prostitution and drugs.
A three-year prison term, however, leaves Michelle with a determination to stay clean. Crossing paths with her newly single first love, Todd (Michael Boatman), and attending a series of Bishop Jakes' revival meetings, Michelle begins to see that life may yet hold for her some positive possibilities -- yet she remains consumed with rage at Reggie.
Elise is skilled at expressing the shifting conflicts within the adult Michelle, and Devine brings so much humanity to the foolish Cassie that it is impossible to dismiss her as a complete monster. (At various points some characters address the camera in self-defense, which is a familiar but effectively revealing device, especially in the case of Cassie.) Debbi Morgan brings style and spunk to the film as Twana, a sensible beauty salon operator who tries to make up for her friend Cassie's maternal failings. Powell expresses Reggie's despicability and weakness with equal effectiveness.
What's so impressive about Bishop Jakes, a warm and burly man with abundant compassion, is that he isn't preachy, in either the pulpit or on death row. He speaks to people's real-life problems and challenges and invites them to lay down their burdens in accepting the strength of a higher power in dealing with them. There's a bedrock honesty in "Woman, Thou Art Loosed" in its grasp of human nature and behavior. This is one faith-based film that pulls no punches.
'Woman, Thou Art Loosed'
MPAA rating: R for violence, sexual content and drug use
Times guidelines: Too intense for children
Bishop T.D. Jakes...Himself
A Magnolia Pictures release. Director Michael Schultz. Producer Reuben Cannon. Executive producer Stan Foster. Screenplay by Foster; based on the novel by Bishop T.D. Jakes. Cinematographer Reinhart Peschke. Editor Billy Fox. Costumes Rita McGhee. Production designer Lisa Daniels. Set decorator Debra Jackson. Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes.
At selected theaters.