There's a scene in The Long Walk Home in which the son of a long-suffering maid tries to intervene with a hate crime against his sister, and ends up absorbing the blows intended for her. Each time he gets on his feet again, his hands ball up into fists, before gradually relaxing to their prior condition of restraint. As viewers watch this powerful indictment of institutionalized racism in the South, they may feel a similar desire to express their anger through violence. And so they'll be even more amazed that those personally affected were able to resist peacefully -- a direct result of their desire to be taken seriously. The Long Walk Home does not break new ground among films about the civil rights movement, nor does it utilize anything but utterly straightforward techniques. Perhaps this last is why the film's message is so urgent and uncluttered. Helping in this regard are exceptional performances by Whoopi Goldberg and Sissy Spacek, not to mention their director, Richard Pearce. Goldberg, who has always opted for serious alternatives to her zany comedic roles, produces some of her best work in that parallel focus. Resigned to the realities of her world, including the occasional inconvenience of her own principles, Goldberg's Odessa Cotter is an image of proud stoicism. But Spacek's Miriam Thompson may be the more technically challenging role. Starting as the businesslike wife who inundates her maid with a laundry list of cavalier requests, she shows her evolving sympathy only gradually, through subtle gestures. She's a woman fighting not only her upbringing, but the blind stubbornness of her husband, with a weapon that often seems insufficient: her sense of human decency. Since Odessa essentially remains constant, it's Miriam's growth that marks the film's narrative catharsis -- which society on the whole would eventually mirror.