Director Richard Pearce and the writing team of Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson bring their respective skills with stories of rural (and specifically Southern) folk to this underrated comedy drama. Wisely, the writers and director stay focused on character development and never stray too far into the situation comedy realm in which the film's central ideas seem to have been hatched, so the material stays a cut above its high-concept roots. This puts the onus of the film's success on its cast, and thankfully it features a trio of magnificent, career-high performances. As a "cracker" shocked to learn his true heritage, Robert Duvall presages his turn in The Apostle (1997); James Earl Jones employs his own real-life childhood stuttering impediment to marvelous use; Irma P. Hall, whose character injects the film with regular, welcome doses of comic relief, is a scene stealer in the long, proud tradition of superb supporting character actors. MGM has released A Family Thing on video and DVD under its "Contemporary Classics" banner, and for once a studio's marketing scheme is right on target: The film is a delightful exploration of what "family" really means in an increasingly cross-cultural, racially undivided society.