The Birth Of A Nation - This Worthwhile Movie Doesn't Quite Rock
Dir: Nate Parker
Starring Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Jackie Earle Haley, Mark Boone Junoir, Penelopie Anne Miller, Gabrielle Undion, Aja Naomi King
With its title deliberately invoking D W Griffiths’ racist classic, Nate Parker’s film was always going to be controversial. Having wowed at Sundance back at the start of the year, no one had any idea just how controversial. As Hollywood searched desperately for something to counteract the #OscarsSoWhite outcry, the noise of the film has been quieted down by the din of Parker’s own personal history over a college-era allegation of rape (he was subsequently acquitted.) Now the film has finally arrived and its failure at the US box office now only adds to its loss of glory and potential lack of awards to come this season.
So after all the fuss – what is the movie like? It’s certainly heartfelt, obviously provocative, but very straightforward – it’s music choices alone, Swing Low Sweet Chariot and Strange Fruit, for example, show just how on the nose Parker is as a filmmaker. Parker also stars as Nat Turner, the slave preacher who led an uprising that resulted in the death of many a white slave owner, and most of his own men – those not shot were hanged or worse, as was Turner himself. So, Parker could show Turner as anything from a saviour to a terrorist. He opts mostly for the former, which is justifiable but, as with much of the movie, fairly obvious.
Lacking the complexity and, as a result, the power, of something like 12 Years A Slave, Parker’s Birth of a Nation itself will probably go down in history as one of two things – the awards certainty that was derailed by real life, and, secondly, a decent enough, very solid movie. But no more than that.
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