Promoted as a family movie, Sounder is a masterpiece of such slow-moving complexity that I think it might be difficult for a child to sit through it all. But this is an excellent film nonetheless with a superb cast and talented director. Just be sure to keep some tissues handy because the story packs an emotional punch.
Sounder is based on a book of the same name by William Armstrong.
In rural, Depression-era Louisiana, 12-year-old David Lee (Kevin Hook) is by far the oldest child of his poor sharecropper family. Poor is an understatement; this family is downright destitute, scraping by on a meager diet of biscuits and gravy as the owners of their farm take virtually all of their regular harvests. Every day David and his father (Paul Winfield) take their loyal dog, Sounder, out hunting for anything that will put meat on the table. But, despite Sounder’s skill, they haven’t caught anything in a long time. One morning, however, David and his siblings awaken to the glorious smell of meat frying. David is instinctively wary of the unexpected gift, and his uneasiness grows as his parents dodge his questions. Soon enough, the police show up and arrest David’s father for petty theft.
As David’s mother, Rebecca (Cicely Tyson), struggles with the farm on her own, David is torn between helping his family and getting an education. The film focuses heavily on David’s coming-of-age as the boy encounters oppression and desperately seeks a way to rise above it.