The Lost City of Z (Gray; 2017)

Charlie Hunnam plays Major Percival Fawcett, a member of the British military whose father tarnished the Fawcett family name through his various addictions.  “Percy” is also an experienced surveyor, so when war is near breaking out between Brazil and Bolivia due to a burgeoning rubber industry combined with a lack of a distinct border between the two countries, Fawcett is called upon to head to the jungles between the two countries and determine where the border definitively lies.  When he discovers the remnants of what can only be an ancient civilization during his mission, he develops a life long obsession with finding the lost city which only the “savages” in the area seem to know even ever existed and prove that the native people of the area aren’t really savages, after all.

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The marketing campaign for The Lost City of Z made the film look as if it’s a pulp fiction (the genre, not the movie) style adventure complete with hostile natives, death defying escapes, and lost treasure hidden around every corner.  What the movie really is, is a biography which covers the span of decades, following Percy from a time shortly after the birth of his first son, through World War I, and finishing with his final trip to the South American jungles.  While archaeology and the Lost City do cast a shadow across the entire film, and Percy Fawcett’s story revolves around them, this is the story of a man, not a mission nor a place.

Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson (Henry Costin, Percy’s right hand man), and Sienna Miller (Nina Fawcett, Percy’s wife) headline the cast and all give performances that can best be described as proficient, but never exciting.  All the actors give us a fully developed, realistic character whom we can fully believe, but for some reason they never allow us to become fully invested in them, the simulation of a life is there, but the spark is missing.  The one exception to this is Angus Macfayden as James Murray, a man who insists on accompanying Fawcett on one of his trips which Murray funds.  Murray ends up being a truly pathetic sham of a human being who jeopardizes the entire mission with his arrogance and incompetence, but he is also the one character that truly seems human, like a life we can be honestly witnessing.

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Competent, but with no spark, is a good way to describe the entire film, actually.  The camerawork gives us some beautiful shots, but what it gives us is more like looking at a landscape which you’d buy at an art fair rather than a Van Gogh or a Renoir.  Sure, the cinematographer (Darius Khondji) knew what they were doing well beyond just where to point the camera, but there was no personal touch to it.  Everything was pretty and easy to follow, but again – no spark.

The story itself is well written, the screenplay is probably the best part of the film, but could have been edited better.  The Lost City of Z is a long movie, 2 hours and 20 minutes, and while I wouldn’t call that overly long if the time is well used, there are large chunks of the movie which could have been trimmed.  The pacing of the entire film is a slow, even one, which doesn’t have to be an issue, but it seems that director James Gray was overly enamored with too much of his material, choosing to linger on conversations which served a very minor purpose or leaving in scenes which added little to nothing to the story.

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Final verdict:  As a history lesson, The Lost City of Z is actually pretty great, but know going into it that that is what you are getting, a biographical history lesson.   Any adventure and excitement to found in the film is spaced very far apart and doesn’t last very long.  What we have is a very clinical look at an interesting life.  If you take a lot of interest in biographies and history then there is a lot to catch your interest in The Lost City of Z, for anyone else, though, I’m afraid this film may be too slow paced and aloof. There is a lot to learn here, but not a lot to enjoy.

 

Lion (Davis; 2016)

Lion is the true story of Saroo Brierly (played as a 5 year-old by Sunny Pawar and as an adult by Dev Patel), an Indian boy who after being lost and ending up thousands of miles away from home was eventually adopted by an Australian family.   This very well acted and written movie really is two different films, the first half a sort of thriller about a young boy desperately trying to survive and get home in a culture so overpopulated that people are practically disposable, and the second half about a young man trying to figure out his place in a world in which he feels he is betraying the people who love him when he becomes obsessed with his past and who also feels guilt over his luck in becoming a privileged person through no work on his own part when he knows he would have lived a life of complete and abject poverty were it not for a quirk of fate.

Both Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman (as Sue Brierly, Saroo’s Australian adoptive mother) have been nominated for Academy Awards as supporting actors in their respective roles, and while I don’t see either performance as necessarily worthy of winning, they are both definitely worthy of their nominations.  These two roles are the largest in the film, and have to carry more of the themes and the story than any others, but are considered supporting purely due to the fact that the film takes place over such a large period of time with such a large cast that even these largest roles are around for only roughly half the running time.  Still in that half we get to see both of these actors at or near their best.  Patel particularly gives us a truly realistic and memorable character as he starts out a confident, cheerful man very pleased with his life but ultimately becoming more and more anxious gradually, losing that confidence and eroding his relationships as he becomes consumed with both his guilt over his luck and his desire to discover what happened to his birth family.  Nicole Kidman doesn’t give perhaps her best performance here, her career is so long and celebrated that that would be quite a stretch to claim, but it does rank among her greatest at least.  Her Sue is a character that brings out the empathy in us all with her long suffering cheerfulness and her desire to make the world a better place.  There is one scene between Kidman and Patel in particular when Saroo reveals to Sue that he feels guilty for her having to raise him that I guarantee will get under the skin of even the most unsympathetic of us and will make you ponder the way you think of family and its purpose.

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The cinematography in Lion was also nominated for an Academy Award, and this nomination is a little more sketchy.  It is well done, there is no doubt about that, and a handful of scenes here and there show true inspiration, but for the most part the camera work in Lion is nothing more than consistently proficient.  There is nothing at all wrong with that, and it makes for a strong viewing experience when the camera work never interferes with and often enhances the story, but to say it is one of the five best instances of cinematography this year is an overstatement when there are far more stylish and more difficult to film works that did not get nominations.

The writing in Lion is, however, worthy of its nomination.  It not only gives a gripping, multi-layered, well-paced true story, but it also manages to say a lot about family, privilege, overpopulation, and a great many other topics in its 2 hour running time and all of it current, relevant, and very thoughtful.  Young Saroo’s trials as an orphaned child in India show a culture which is so overstuffed with people that it’s all one can do to just survive day to day, and being noticed is not only not a concern, but can often be a detriment as the only reason someone would want to deal with a stranger is to use them to further their own survival by whatever means are necessary.  The sharp contrast with the wealthy Australian family is night and day, and says a lot about not just first world privilege and how we take it for granted, but also about what altruism and love truly are, or at least what they can and should be.

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Final recommendation:  Lion is an excellently put together story.  It has a wealth to say about the world we live in and how very different our cultures can be.  It says just as much about love, family, our personal ties, and what it is that ultimately makes us human.  However, as well done as it all is, it isn’t overly creative nor artistic.  It’s a film you appreciate and respect more than be awed by.  You will often get caught up in it, but will also just as often lose that connection when Lion moves on to a scene not so pivotal.  If you are an Oscar junkie, or if great performances are your favorite part of a movie, then this gets a whole hearted recommendation.  I give the same recommendation to those who are moved by stories about love and family.  For the rest, I will say there is nothing here which will be particularly off putting nor intriguing.  It is a wonderful story, and a good movie, but it is not a masterpiece and it is not one of a kind.

Hidden Figures (Melfi; 2016)

Hidden Figures focuses on three major themes:  the brainpower needed to get the American Space Program literally off the ground, racism, and sexism.  All three of these themes are attacked from the very first second of the film in which we see the three main characters of the film, Katharine Johnson played by Taraji P. Henson, Dorothy Vaughan played by Octavia Spencer, and Mary Jackson played by Janelle Monae, stranded on the side of the road with a broken down car.  The three African American women deal with the situation in their own way, Katharine studies for her job later, Dorothy is underneath the car fixing it, and Mary stands behind the car smoking and considering hitching a ride when a white male police officer pulls up behind them lights flashing.  He tells them they can’t be there and they have to move along, and the girls tell him they work for NASA.

“I didn’t realize NASA hired…” (pregnant pause)

“Oh yes, lots of women work for the space program, officer.” (with a polite, but knowing smile)

The police officer then lets them finish working on their car and gives them an escort into work, lights flashing and siren blaring, so that they can get those American boys up in space.

This is a perfect example of a film opening setting the tones and themes of the film to come.  The girls are confronted with a problem, the problem becomes exaggerated because of racism and sexism, the girls use their skills to get them through the problem, and they’ve earned the respect of the white men whom they work with.  The writing is efficient and entertaining, if often a bit saccharine and overly safe.

Looking at the three major themes of Hidden Figures separately, we see first off that the topic of sexism is barely touched on.  When Katherine first meets Colonel Jim Johnson, the man she eventually marries, he seems incredulous of her talents due to her gender, and this gets them off on the wrong foot, and looking at the various departments around NASA, women and men most definitely have their own sectors and only rarely do they mix, but these subjects are only hinted at and touched upon due to the era, but are never explored in any depth.  Johnson quickly gets over his sexism and sees Katherine for the intelligent person she is without any real fight or struggle, and there are no Mad Man type moments in the rest of the film looking at women as objects or inferiors aside from just portraying the mores of the time accurately.  This is enough for an active watcher, and spending more time on the sexism angle of the story would detract from the other two major themes, but don’t expect Hidden Figures to make much of a statement nor shed much light on a feminist front.

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The rhemes of racism are handled with more care and attention.   Modern Hollywood is evolving when it comes to these themes, not focusing as much on the hatred and violence that marks racism at its most extreme, but giving us stories that shed light on the far more common every day racism that nearly every single one of us furthers and accepts whether we know or like it or not.  Hidden Figures can sugar coat the message, but that is not altogether a bad thing as the whole purpose of sugar coating is to make something easier to swallow, and this a message that needs as many people to swallow it as is possible.

A great example of how Hidden Figures approaches the topic is the subplot of Katherine having to use the rest room while working for the department of calculations.  This was still the era of segregation, so white and colored bathrooms were still very much a real thing, and the nearest colored women’s bathroom is on the opposite end of NASA’s campus, making for nearly a mile walk when both directions are taken into account every time Katherine has to pee.  Several times throughout the course of the film we see a scene in which she has to gather up her piles of books containing the figures she has to check and make the half mile each way trek all the while trying to keep her bladder under control.   When things start getting particularly tense because the calculation team is falling behind getting John Glenn’s orbital launch ready, Al Hamilton, Katherine’s boss played by Kevin Costner, blows up at her demanding to know why she disappears for 40 minutes every day when she knows what tight deadlines they are working with.  Katherine responds in kind, screaming at him about what she has to go through just to use the bathroom (among other racist, but socially accepted, double standards she has to endure).  Shortly thereafter we see Hamilton destroying the sign over the restroom which says Colored Ladies’ Bathroom in front of all the African American women who work at NASA and announcing that no longer will the bathrooms be separate, that everyone at NASA is part of the same team, and the women can use whatever bathroom they want, all to thunderous applause (both by the characters in the movie and by the real audience watching the film if my audience is any indication of what to go by).

If this seems a bit too easy and pat, it is.  Two temper tantrums and suddenly years of policy are overwritten?  Even if it is someone very high up in the organization making the decision, there will still by naysayers and complaints, but here it’s just two people yelling at each other, one realizing that he didn’t understand the other’s position, and suddenly everything is fine.  On the other hand, handling the theme in this manner does make it more easily relatable to a larger audience.  The problem with focusing purely on the hatred and violence of racism is that people never see themselves as such, and showing the extremes of racism makes it easier to deny in yourself.  Showing racism as something far more insidious and accepted gets one thinking about their own prejudices, and exaggerating the ease with which it is overcome makes it easier for people to forgive themselves for their own biases and therefore confront rather than deny something we’d rather not see in ourselves.  Should racism always be dealt with like this in film?  Absolutely not.  Harsh reality must be confronted, as well.  But, Hidden Figures uses a method excellent at getting the average person to question their own prejudices.

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The story behind HIdden Figures, that of the part three African American women played in the Space Race of the Cold War, is for the most part well handled,  but does fail in a handful of areas.  The pacing of the story is excellent, the amount of time handled on each of the three women is well done with Katherine’s story taking the focus while Dorothy and Mary’s stories are large subplots.  The writers do a great job of letting us know about the story’s multiple and very real stakes to ratchet up the tension, and the racism themes parallel the Space Race plot excellently.

One problem is with Mary’s story.  While Katherine and Dorothy show that they were instrumental in getting the American Space Program up and running between Katherine’s calculations and Dorothy’s creativity, determination, and talent in learning FORTRAN, Mary’s story of becoming the first African American woman engineer is sort of sidelined and seems unimportant to the overall plot.  It is interesting and inspiring, to be sure, and Mary is an excellent character, but her story just seems to be wedged in to add a third subplot.

Finally, I’m not completely sure of the real story behind Hidden Figures but I can tell that much of the plot had to have been manufactured to work for Hollywood.  This is not a problem so much as an observation, if they weren’t manufacturing a plot it would have been a documentary and unfortunately had a much smaller audience for that reason, but it still needs to be pointed out.  I have no doubt that Katherine, Mary, and Dorothy knew each other as they all worked for NASA, but did they all carpool together every day, were they best friends outside of work, and did they really all push each other and inspire each other in their separate pursuits?  It’s possible, but seems highly unlikely, certainly unlikely that things happened in exactly the way the film portrayed their relationships.

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As to the remaining factors aside from the themes and story which make up Hidden Figures, all of the acting on display in the film is quite good to excellent.  The true stand out in the acting department is Janelle Monae who steals every single scene she appears in as Mary, making the most of her role which I mentioned earlier may be the least important to the story, but the most intriguing and entertaining as pure performance.  Spencer and Henson are both excellent, and Costner shows that he is still wonderful when he takes on a supporting role.  The only poor performance on display here is Jim Parsons as Paul Stafford, a person who works with the computations with Katherine and resents her.  His character is predictable and uninteresting, around merely to sneer and raise his nose in the air as if something smelled bad near him, and while part of this is the script’s fault, most of the script does tend to the predictable and easily digestible and all of the other actors managed to overcome that handicap.

The visuals are competent, with no scenes or shots particularly standing out in either a good nor in a bad way.  The camerawork has a nice, easy flow to it, the art design does the trick, the costumes look authentic, and the special effects don’t stand out.  All in all what we see on the screen is very competently put together even if there are few out there who would marvel at it as artistic.

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Final Recommendation:  Hidden Figures is a very good film which I recommend to nearly everyone.  If you are a history, and particularly a civil rights, Cold War, or space race, buff then I recommend it absolutely wholeheartedly.  I also strongly recommend Hidden Figures to women of African American descent as this film will make you feel some long overdue power and appreciation.  Perhaps the only group which may not enjoy this film are those whom are sticklers for historical accuracy.  For this group, I’m not sure what to recommend, as I still think you will find the history of the piece intriguing and in my research I was unable to find a documentary which deals with this subject.  Hopefully one day, but for now this is the closest we can get.

 

Loving (Nichols; 2016)

Racism is one of Hollywood’s favorite subjects to explore, especially come Oscar time, but Hollywood is also a world in which most of those involved in the producing of such films aren’t subject to racism themselves, and so they approach the topic in a hamfisted, overly simplistic manner far too often.  We’re sent the message that racism is really bad, something nearly everyone already knows, and that if we could just see things from another point of view we’d be completely cured.  Not every movie does this, of course, occasionally you do get a truly nuanced look at the subject, but those nuanced looks rarely win Oscars nor acclaim and instead Hollywood and critics alike award those who give us the obvious and borderline childish “racism is bad” message and pat themselves on the back for another job well done.

Loving is the story of Mildred and Richard Loving (Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton respectively) an interracial couple living in rural Virginia who break state law when they go up to Washington D.C. to get married then return home to live.  Most biographies overemphasize and occasionally downright falsify dramatic events in the lives of their subjects for the purpose of making an entertaining film, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here.  In Loving we get a very straightforward look at the lives of Richard and Mildred.  Nothing appears to be exaggerated for effect as we are shown how their day to day lives are impacted simply because the two people trying to live simplistically aren’t being allowed to by a very few select people.  Most of what we see is a couple who love each other trying to raise a family while living in poverty, with that routine occasionally, and only very occasionally, being attacked by those who find their lifestyle offensive.  It’s in this simplicity and matter-of-factness that Loving finds its power.

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They won’t even pose for me.  Jerks.

You would think that in a film like Loving, racial slurs would be par for the course, but Nichols (the writer and director) is too smart to fall into that all too easy to fall into trap.  Not once during the film’s entire running time is a racial epithet hurled from one character to another, Nichols gets that the vast majority of people do not consider themselves racist nor hateful, and that most people know that calling someone a name is frowned upon, childish, and just makes you look bad, and that this was true even in the 50’s and 60’s when segregation still existed.  Could racists get away with more then than now?  Absolutely.  But Nichols realizes that those who truly have a vested interest in dividing us through making us care about race are smart enough to not outwardly show their hatred and instead justify making laws to make us hate one another.  Rather than screaming prejudiced insults, the characters in Loving who have a vested interest in keeping segregation laws alive use religion, legal precedent, and spurious logic to make their case.

The performances in Loving are also absolutely believable across the board.  We really believe that Richard and Mildred just want to be treated as any other couple and just want to be left alone to raise their family.  We don’t get monologues or grandstanding, no grand speeches on how they are people just like everyone else.  We just get two very low key, soft spoken characters whom can be easily identified with because they are people we know if they aren’t ourselves.  The people surrounding the Lovings are also well acted for the most part, though the sheriff’s deputy does get a little too close to a glowering Southern lawman stereotype for my comfort, and those actors playing family members in particular make you forget you are watching a fictionalized drama rather than a documentary at times.

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What?  We pose like this all the time in reality.

Loving manages to do what most films focusing on racism miss.  The simplicity needs to be in the characters and story, not in the message.   Hatred rarely takes on the form of gritted teeth and nasty words, that’s just the hatred we notice.  Prejudice is at its most insidious when it seems natural, when its justified by the rules and customs we live by, and prejudice rarely upends the lives of those who live large and flamboyantly, it’s those just trying to get by day to day that have to fight it more often.  Loving not only gets that, it also gets it across to us.  The Lovings just want the right to live together as a married couple like any other married couple, they don’t want to call attention to themselves, and they don’t see how they are doing anything wrong that will affect anyone else.  The message isn’t groundbreaking, it doesn’t need to be, but it needs to be told in a way we can not only relate to, but in which we can see ourselves, and that is what Loving does brilliantly.

Rating:  7.8 out of 10 

Hacksaw Ridge (Gibson; 2016)

Conscientious objector, it’s a term that most people don’t entirely understand, myself included before I’d seen Hacksaw Ridge.  I thought a conscientious objector was a person who refused to perform military service due to moral or religious reasons, but Hacksaw Ridge is a film about Deacon Doss (played by Andrew Garfield), a conscientious objector who signed up for World War II military service and was on the front lines of the titular battle which took place on the island of Okinawa.  What made him a conscientious objector was not his refusal to go to war, it was his refusal to pick up and use a weapon.

To say that Hacksaw Ridge‘s director, Mel Gibson, has become something of a controversial figure is an understatement.  It’s not the place nor the style of this page to go into details, but suffice it to say that there are many out there who thought that his days working in Hollywood were close to done as we’ve seen little from him outside of smaller scale acting jobs for the past decade.   Perhaps Mr. Gibson had just realized that discretion on his part was necessary for a while, and now he’s decided it’s time he can come back, because Hacksaw Ridge is quite the announcement that Mel Gibson is not done in Hollywood, yet.

This is definitely a Gibson style movie.  It’s a little hackneyed much of the time.  The dialogue is cliched and trite, the music swells and ebbs at exactly the appropriate times, and the plot predictable and overly familiar.  But, when it comes to telling a story and gripping you emotionally through visuals, there is never any holding back, and this is where Gibson and his crew show themselves to be true artisans.  I can’t speak to the authenticity of the battle scenes, as I’ve never fought in one, and certainly not in World War II, but I can say that the experience this film gives us is one that is brutal, visceral, and terrifying.  The battle scenes here are quite comparable to the storming of the beach in Saving Private Ryan, except that here the scenes happen toward the last half of the film after we’ve already met the platoon and are invested in the characters, making the experience all the more gut wrenching.

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Michael Bay needs to watch Hacksaw Ridge and take copious notes.

Unfortunately, also like typical Gibson, everything about the storytelling which isn’t visually driven runs to the predictable and overdone.  The dialogue is so typical Hollywood as to be laughable and distracting, the beats of the story are cliched war movie tropes from the chance love at first sight meeting just before going off to war, to the introduction to all the kooky characters in the barracks scene, to the inspirational speeches before a battle everything here is more than just familiar, it’s trite.

The acting in Hacksaw Ridge is also nothing particularly stand out in either a good nor a bad way.  The actors do serviceable work, never calling attention to the fact that they’re playing a character, but also never going beyond stereotypes we’ve seen time and again either.  The acting on display is familiar enough to never be distracting, but also so familiar that it’s rarely, if ever, inspiring, either.

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If this looks familiar it’s because you’ve seen A Few Good Men, or Paths of Glory, or Top Gun, or Rules of Engagement, or…

The story of Hacksaw Ridge, aside from it’s focal character, is nothing we haven’t seen many, many times before.  The visuals of Hacksaw Ridge, however, and it’s point of view do set it apart from the many which have come before it, and do make it a film very much worth watching.  It may not stimulate much on an intellectual level, though the central idea of a man’s duty to country versus a country’s duty to a man does have some real heft to it philosophically, but emotionally it has one hell of an impact.

Rating:  7.0 out of 10

The Birth of a Nation (Parker; 2016)

Nate Parker is the writer, director, producer, and star of The Birth of a Nation, the film with the same name as the 1915 silent film which is known for its innovation in cinematography techniques which influences the way films are made to this day, but is also known for its racist and terribly offensive story line which portrays the Ku Klux Klan as heroes who made America a great country, Abraham Lincoln as a villain, and free black men as degenerates.  In telling the story of the great slave revolt of 1831, Nate Parker is obviously using the name ironically, but a little of the irony falls off on him because while the story is important and a strong condemnation of racism and the culture which encourages it, it also isn’t too terribly innovative in its more technical aspects.

The Birth of a Nation is first and foremost impassioned, most often in a good way but sometimes to the point of melodrama.  A series of events that led to a man gathering together a group of slaves to kill slave owners is little more than a slasher movie without the context of how Nat Turner  was brought to that point, and that means many emotional scenes, some positive, some negative – many negative, and while many, especially those early on are quite intelligent and insightful, the longer the film goes on the more it begins to rely on cliche’s and cheap emotional tricks.  Some of my favorite scenes show how the idea of owning another human being was so normative during this period that even those we were most empathetic to took it for granted, its quite powerful to find yourself really liking a particular character then have that character get excited when an person is bought for them as a gift and its just taken for granted by everyone.  But, later, we get into the stereotypical scenes in a slave era film, the whippings, the white man standing over a kneeling black man snarling and showing teeth, and the like.  We’ve seen the brutality in film after film before this, it’s not shocking because we’ve been grappling with it for years already, it’s seeing the normalization of people being seen as possessions that creates the shocks, and while those scenes give the film its power, there aren’t enough of them.

Along with the evils of treating people like objects , another powerful theme throughout the movie, and the one that is handled more intelligently, is a look at how religion can be used to control and to justify any cause.  The Bible ends up becoming a major focal point in The Birth of a Nation and nearly every action undertaken by the central characters is either motivated by or justified with Christian faith.  This element in the script is handled quite deftly, never attacking the religion itself nor its followers, but merely showing how easily people can be manipulated by the offer of eternal reward and how any action whether good or evil can be rationalized using the Bible as a reference.

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Here we see The Birth of a Televangelist

Parker obviously knows his way around a camera, but at least here never shows himself to be a true auteur.  Scenes are framed well and there is little to no cheating going on with perspective during action scenes or otherwise.  However, there is also not a whole lot going on in the way of true creativity.  Some scenes here and there are quite beautiful, but not often enough to definitively determine whether the beauty comes naturally or from camerawork.  What we see on display is definitely proficiency, but only the rudiments of artistry.

The acting is much like the camerawork.  The performances here show no weakness, but also don’t give us anything beyond the storytelling.  It’s obvious the actors understand their characters, but it’s rare that they truly embody them.  It may be a mistake for Parker to have directed himself, in fact, as his performance is the one that glues everything together, and is in many ways the most all over the place.  There are scenes in which he absolutely commands attention with a powerful charisma and others where he gives in to overacting.  He does his best to direct others, though, as his own performance is the most inconsistent.  The other actors range from professional to quite good, though there are no award contenders to be seen here.

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I’m practicing my Golden Globe speech right now, dickhead.

The writing on display here is also a little on the inconsistent side.  We have some great dialogue, fresh ways of looking at how slavery demeaned an entire people with consequences that last to this day, a smart look at how religion is used to control, and many very real, three dimensional characters.  However, we also have a script that devolves into cliche and “been there, seen that” more and more as the story goes on, characters that defy motivation and take actions that seemingly come out of nowhere just to move the plot along, and questionable omissions from the true story, both because they could make the themes of people being pushed to the limit even more interesting and sully the legacy of Nat Turner and his fellow slaves by turning them into something they weren’t for either dramatic effect or false empathy.

The Birth of a Nation is a very good film, and at times, an important film.  I recommend it, but not wholeheartedly both because it has some very serious flaws, and because it could have been more.  It looks to me like Nate Parker either didn’t have faith in his original vision, or he didn’t know how to follow up his story’s brilliant beginnings with equally brilliant follow through.  What could have been a really thoughtful and razor sharp look at the evils of cultural normalizations, the long term effects of the degradation of an entire people, and both the positives and negatives of religion and its control of entire groups unfortunately becomes a story that relies on dramatics and cheap emotional manipulation.  There is no doubt that The Birth of a Nation is a tense and passionate story, but you can see even as you’re watching it that it had the potential to be so much more.

Rating:  6.0 out of 10