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Mary Steenburgen

'The Help' gets big boost from Viola Davis

Viola Davis in 'The Help'

A face can make a movie work. As a black maid employed by a white family in Mississippi in 1963, Viola Davis has such a quietly intense face that it says all that needs to be said in "The Help."

Having grown up under Jim Crow laws, this maid named Aibileen suppresses her bitter feelings beneath a subservient smile. America may be entering an era of civil rights reforms, but she's living much as her slave grandmother did. When Aibileen does speak, her words are so carefully measured that you realize she is mentally calculating how to get through yet another day on the job with a measure of dignity intact.

Viola Davis brings such nuanced facial...