‘Delia’s Gone’ Review: A False Conviction in a Hardscrabble Town

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Over the final credits of the movie “Delia’s Gone,” the traditional blues song “Delia” by Blind Willie McTell plays. Loosely speaking, the song is the tale of a gambling woman who meets a bad end. Johnny Cash’s variation on it, from which this movie takes its title, depicts Delia as the victim of a jealous suitor.

Directed by Robert Budreau, this “Delia’s Gone” tells neither of those stories. The movie is about a pair of siblings, Louis and Delia, living in a hardscrabble rural town populated mostly by surly white people. They themselves are Black. Louis has an intellectual disability that affects his speech and judgment, while his sister, Delia, unemployed and more than a little desperate to get away, takes a cavalier approach to Louis’s care.

When Delia winds up dead on their kitchen floor, Louis is tried for her killing — a crime he insists he did not commit — and is convicted. He serves a short sentence and then goes to a halfway house.

There, a visitor from the past compels Louis to walk out and seek Delia’s real killers. As Louis, Stephan James conveys the character’s increasing emotion by way of much lip-trembling. Trying to rein Louis in are Marisa Tomei, as a former sheriff who is still resentful that she wasn’t taken seriously on account of being a woman, and Paul Walter Hauser, as the current sheriff who is mocked by Tomei’s character because he is overweight.

One watches this movie with a persistent “this is just … wrong” feeling. It’s not just the superficial depiction of Louis’s condition, or the facile depiction of racial dynamics, although those factors don’t help. Maybe it’s the pervasive self-seriousness in pursuit of what turns out to be nothing much at all.

Delia’s Gone
Rated R for violence, language, themes. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes. In theaters.

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