Saturday, 30 November 2019

Review: Harriet

Cert: 12A / 126 mins / Dir. Kasi Lemmons / Trailer

To the awkward past now with Kasi Lemmons’ Harriet, a biopic of Harriet Tubman who escaped slavery in Maryland in 1849 and went on to rescue around 70 others before serving in the American Civil War.

Cynthia Erivo leads in the title role, and indeed goes on to carry the whole film. The problem being that the rest of the cast aren't quite as good, so Erivo ends up doing all the heavy-lifting. And while she's capable enough to pull that off, the resulting film is uneven. The pacing is also all over the shop, and I must confess to clock-watching when the end didn’t appear to be in sight.

Harriet’s first group-rescue is a lengthy and tense affair, but the fact that it takes place after an hour, in the dark and is by necessity conducted as quietly as possible lends the sequence a soporific quality, which I’m pretty certain is not intentional. Lemmons seems to be stronger in the quiet, more reflective moments than the scenes of high drama. Overall it’s competently made, but the Q4 release date whispers ‘awards-bait’ a little too loudly.

Despite the heavy subject-matter, I found Harriet more educational than emotionally engaging. And that’s fine, but if I want enlightenment, I’ll watch a documentary. The film is about more than dates and markers of course, and even more than about freedom, it’s about hope. And while I can be snarky about the month in which Harriet lands, I can’t deny the overall need for this.

Oh, and am I the only one who kept getting distracted every time Terence Blanchard's score kept segueing into the opening fanfare of Goldfinger?

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Okay, it's not as good as 12 Years A Slave (what is?), but Harriet is a step above Free State Of Jones, even though all three would sit on the same shelf anyway..

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
Only for the cinematography, tonally this is more a Sunday-night-in.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
It is, as above.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Probably not, if only because Cynthia Erivo is fantastic in everything.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
That's possible.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Clarke Peters is in this, and he was in Three Billboards along with Woody 'Beckett' Harrelson.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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