‘The Birth of A Nation’

Nate Turner is an above average actor, with a below average eye.

***

Nat Turner is one of the most controversial figures to hit the screen. Much of that controversy here is negligent.

Nate Parker, himself not without controversy, takes the titular role. He is engaging. He is highly emotive. He has significant screen time. Significant screen time is not a compliment. Where Parker succeeds as an actor, he fails as a director. Wasteful establishing shots of landscape, which serve no purpose. Visual threads spinning loose on the ground (An introductory shot of African tribe descendants appearing nowhere else in the film until the very end). Samuel Turner’s (Armie Hammer) surface treated motivations……flop……Lone Ranger…… still a good actor. Sidesteps of Turner’s capture, and his ultimate victims, some children. The bravery would come by Parker allowing his audience to decide Turner’s actions. Instead, a perfect messiah appears.

Nation is mostly surface. O20161017_012004ften stopping at short motivations. Rarely questioning its subject. Without backstory. Without compass. Without directorial inquisition. Female characters, and the subject remain uncontroversial and uncomplicated. Unaware of appropriate representation.

While Nation has its blind spots, it’s not without successes, namely one: Aja Naomi King (Cherry). Her performance is packed with high ceilings and floors. Her humanity and depth fills what Nate’s lacks. She is at once affectionate, intelligent, reserved, and stark mad. Turner remains Turner. Cherry becomes enliven, even if her backstory is greatly lacking. Look for King to get heavy Oscar consideration.

Nate Parker takes what could be an impactful subject and dulls it. By lacking conversation, it exceeds in indulgence. By lacking direction, it flails. By use of faulty thread, the tapestry has holes. The Birth of a Nation……. Esther……off screen rape……feminism taking a back seat……buddy Jesus……. buddy Nat….c’mon Parker…….the KKK are indeed bad….. only see upon request.

Check out my previous review of Hell or High Water

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