When Sheriff Mapes (Richard Widmark) arrives at the home of Matheu (Louis Gossett, Jr.) to investigate the murder of a white farmer, he finds 18 elderly black men and one white woman, plantation owner Candy Marshall (Holly Hunter), already there, each holding a recently fired rifle and claiming to be the killer. The independent-minded Matheu is not entirely pleased to receive the help of the others, who include World War II veteran Yank (Woody Strode), frail Jacob (Papa John Creach), and group spokesman Clatoo (Joe Seneca). The white friends of the dead man ready for a lynching while the increasingly frustrated Mapes tries to beat answers out of the old men, a tactic they endure with stoic dignity.
Director Volker Schlöndorff, known for tackling tough social issues (THE TIN DRUM, THE OGRE), and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and screenwriter Charles Fuller (A SOLDIER'S STORY) combine their talents in a searing adaptation of Ernest J. Gaines's critically acclaimed novel A GATHERING OF OLD MEN. Fine acting from the ensemble cast and the spare, clean images of master photographer Edward Lachman deepen the stirring portrait of unflinching solidarity in the face of explosive racial tension.
When a white farmer is found dead in a black man's yard, 18 black men and a white woman all claim guilt in a circle of solidarity.