Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Review: Harriet is rousing entertainment, but hobbled by strange decisions.

Harriet Review
I can't believe that a Harriet Tubman movie has been in the works for 25 years and is just now making its way out into theaters. She's a woman who escaped slavery then went on thirteen separate missions to rescue slaves. She ultimately was able to grant 70 slaves their freedom through her rescue missions, including family and friends. She was a scout and spy during the American Civil War. She was instrumental throughout the Underground Railroad and the Woman's Suffrage Movement. To have a movie take that long to get on the screen almost feels like blasphemy.

I also read that despite being white, Julia Roberts was considered for the role in 1994. Which is easily the most fucked up thing I read all day today.

Now that "Harriet" is here, how is it? I can tell you its well acted. I can tell you its well staged in structured. There are moments that are both rousing and crowd-pleasing. Harriet Tubman, played so effectively by Cynthia Erivo, running through the forest with several escaped slaves while "Sinner Man" by Nina Simone plays in the background might be the best moment in any movie of the year. Harriet Tubman isn't just a person rightfully recognized in history, she's an American badass. At the same time, the movie has many of the same norms as most slavery movies have. If you were to edit these movies together at the right time, they would all look the same. The villains in this movie are so cartoonishly evil that I can't believe they don't have mustaches to twirl. 

Cynthia Erivo brings much grace to her portrayal of Harriet Tubman. She plays her as strong-willed and intelligent, exactly what is needed to do this role well and she runs with it. She is guided by an amazing supporting cast. Janelle Monae has been on fire as an actress since 2016 (see both "Moonlight" and "Hidden Figures") and she doesn't disappoint here. Vondie Curtis-Hall. Leslie Odom Jr. Jennifer Nettles. Omar Dorsey. The cast here is stacked, and they all help paint this very ugly portrait of what life was truly like back then and just how dangerous is what to go on the run from a system that broke the people trapped in it. Its a harrowing journey at times, but phenomenal and educational at the same time.

The only things that really hurt the films are clear. One, as I stated above, the movie relies a little too heavily on passed slavery movies. It takes its ques a little too religiously to ever feel original. Trust me, no matter how many movies of a particular genre are made, there is always room to stand out. Two, something weird happens throughout this movie and I never knew it about Tubman. Tubman had superpowers. Legit superpowers. She could talk to God. That may sound snarky and cynical, but I don't mean it to be. She spends lots of time talking to God in this movie, and every time she does, she conveniently gets out of a dangerous problem or something of the sort. Sure, she could have had good intuition. Many people around the world have that gift. But the movie makes it feel like she has superpowers, and the movie fails in any way to communicate that in any other fashion.

All in all, this is still a movie worth seeing. So much of it is so good that the couple small gripes I have didn't derail it all for me. This is a movie that sometimes raw, and absolutely emotional. 

FINAL GRADE: B+

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