Though clearly not a professional actor, Jakes provides a credible, soft-spoken presence when he visits Michelle (The Manchurian Candidate's Kimberly Elise), an oft-jailed former drug addict on death row. Michelle is the woman of the title, and Woman recounts her life story through a too-complicated narrative scheme. The film cuts between Michelle and Jakes' jailhouse conversation and Michelle's most recent time on the streets. Just out of prison, she renews her ties with her family and tries to resist the pressure to return to drugs and the sex industry.
In addition, Woman flashes back further to horrific, pivotal events from Michelle's childhood and features interludes with the supporting characters "witnessing" to the camera about their feelings -- or lack thereof -- toward Michelle, God or both.
Elise's watchful, cagy performance provides a center to a film that goes in too many directions. When Michelle stands up to callous gangsters or confronts her neglectful mother, Elise's cutting delivery exposes the hypocrisies of others. But she also hints at emotions kept in check, as if she feels far more than she wants to.
Though Woman features a strong spiritual message and a genuine concern for the social problems that lead women to crime, its script seldom integrates the two. Perhaps a concert film of Bishop Jakes' sermons would offer a more direct path to the good word. Now playing.