A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
The case electrified the nation in 1955, not least because Emmett's indomitable mother, Mamie, enlisted Chicago officials in her fight to gain possession of the boy's body, which authorities in Money, Miss., wanted to bury as quickly and quietly as possible. In a heartbreaking sequence in "The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till," she recalls saying, "I told the funeral director, 'If you can't open the box, I can. I want to see what's in that box.' "
What she found was the already decomposing body of her son, which had spent three days in a bayou of the Tallahatchie River, a heavy cotton gin fan tied to his neck with barbed wire. The mother is deliberate as she describes what she saw. She always thought her son's teeth were "the prettiest thing I ever saw." All but two were knocked out. One eyeball was hanging on his chin. An ear was missing. She saw daylight through the bullet hole in his head. His skull had been chopped almost in two, the face separated from the back of the head.
What Mamie Till did then made history. She insisted that the casket remain open at the Chicago funeral. Thousands filed past the remains. A photograph in Jet magazine made such an impression that, 50 years later, "60 Minutes" reporter Ed Bradley remembers seeing it; he discusses it on his program with Keith Beauchamp, director of this film, a much younger man who saw the photo and became obsessed with the case.
It was Beauchamp's nine years of investigation, summarized in the film, that was primarily responsible for the Justice Department reopening the case. In the original trial, two white men, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, were charged with the crime. An all-white jury took only an hour to acquit them, later explaining they would have returned sooner, but took a "soda pop break" to make it look better. Only two months later, immune because of laws against double jeopardy, the two men sold their story to Look magazine for $4,000 and confessed to the crime.