Monday, October 10, 2016

[Review] The Birth of a Nation

1915's The Birth of a Nation has been exalted as a groundbreaking cinematic achievement for its technical prowess and epic scope. However, the film is marred by its racist overtones and glorification of the Ku Klux Klan. In a fittingly reactionary move, writer/director/star Nate Parker (who has been dealing with some troubling controversies of his own) ignites a new The Birth of a Nation, taking on the same exact title. And like a well-sharpened hatchet to the gut, this film--which is inspired by the true events of Nat Turner's slave revolt--is as harrowing and moving as you'd expect.

Virginia in the early 1800s. We meet Nat Turner (Parker), a well-read slave who's called upon to deliver sermons at other plantations, while his owner (played by Armie Hammer) collects coin.
Along the way Nat witnesses so much injustice and inhumane cruelty, that he eventually snaps and decides to secretly lead a formation of fellow slaves to strike back against the oppressors.

As a brutal run-through, The Birth of a Nation gazes upon all the atrocities of slavery with intense and unflinching detail. But the film is also a brave and vengeful story of uprising against hateful, evil forces. Given the script's religious layer, the plot is imagined as a David vs. Goliath tale of sorts. A testament of brotherhood that boils with anguish and rage. (A few of the film's turning points generated spirited cheers from the audience during my screening.) There's also a lot of focus on Nat and his marriage with Cherry (Aja Naomi King), along with their newborn daughter, as the film functions as a tragic story of love and family amidst terrible circumstances.

The cast are impressive all around. Nate Parker gives a tremendous performance as the central protagonist. His acting chops are on display most during the watery-eyed, passionate, and soulful preaching scenes, as he recites significantly combative texts from the bible--the verses that the slave owners don't want people to know about. The narrative does stumble at times, and it lacks in character depth, as Nat Turner is the only person who comes off as multidimensional. Obviously I'm less concerned about the despicable slave owners being developed, because eff them.

So this film probably won't garner as much praise as the recent comparison piece 12 Years A Slave, but it's still packed with stunning images, powerful scenes, and themes that still resonate today--making The Birth of a Nation another searing, incendiary, and vital viewing.

* 8.5/10 *

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1 comment:

  1. I came here to see if you reviewed this. I saw it but don't know if I should write a review yet. You gave it a rather high score. I agree it had some great cinematic moments and that the other characters were too flat. Even one of my faves Roger G. Smith wasn't sued to his potential. To say it was two hours I feel like they didn't have enough time to build up the anxiety that would lead to a rebellion. Off subject: I saw Arrival yesterday was pretty good but not at the same time haha. Next, up Dr. Strange.