Family Thing, A [1996]

This film features the wonderfully understated duet of Robert Duvall and James Earl Jones, two old pros who know just how to stay out of each other's way while offering superb support. Duvall plays Earl Pilcher, an aging Southerner whose mother dies, leaving him a letter with a startling secret: in fact, she was not his mother, though she raised him--but his father is really his father. His real mother was a black servant whom his father forced himself upon, and she died in childbirth. Even more shocking, he has a black brother in Chicago, Ray (Jones). Stunned to his soul, Earl heads for Chicago, where he finds that Ray not only knows his secret but wants nothing to do with him. Slowly, however, in this marvelously drawn script by Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson, the two brothers find common ground. The theme--about discovering a family bond where none existed before--works better than the story-telling, which is a shade predictable. Watch for a great supporting performance by actress Irma Hall, who plays the aunt of both men. --Marshall Fine

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