We often take our freedom for granted. The ability to walk outside our door, breathe fresh air, and move around on our own terms. It’s a privilege and not a given. Just ask Harriet Tubman.
The enslaved young woman decided that enough was enough back in 1849, escaping from her Maryland plantation and heading nearly 100 miles north to Philadelphia. It was there she found freedom from evil white families and endless torture. But then she did something unthinkable and incredible: she turned around and went back.
Over the next 15+ years, Tubman made dozens of trips, freeing more slaves every time she went back. It was equatable to a firefighter rescuing a few victims and getting out alive, only to turn around and go back for more saves.
Tubman was an amazing woman. “Harriet,” co-written and directed by St. Louis native Kasi Lemmons, is just an average movie.
Cynthia Erivo’s central performance is the reason to give this film a chance, because she is only the thing separating it from reading Tubman’s Wikipedia page. There’s just little distinguishing elements outside of Erivo that would have me telling you to spend $12 to see this movie before other deserving films. I would say it’s better than reading a middle school student’s book report on the legendary women-one of the few to lead an armed expedition-but that should be a given due to cinematic treatment.
Are there parts of the film that genuinely move a soul to an emotional place? Yes, but those are few and far between. What you get is a machine-like cinematic structure, with one event leading to the next without much creative input. I didn’t want Lemmons to change her story or add unnecessary drama, but perhaps a few nice touches of filmmaking suaveness. Maybe a couple.
The script, written by Gregory Allan Howard and Lemmons, is a paint-by-numbers retelling. The only supporting cast members to lend something different outside of a robotic, melodramatic performance is Clarke Peters, but that’s because he is incapable of giving a bad performance (just watch HBO’s “The Wire”). The rest of the actors are wooden here, mere caricatures.
The production design, cinematography, and score just don’t add any flair or ferocity to the proceedings. They aren’t bad, just not very good.
That’s one way to describe the movie. If you decide to take the kids to see this movie (and it’s family friendly for the most part), you don’t entirely waste your money. You would only do that by watching “The Kitchen.” Lemmons’ film isn’t a bad watch or decision; I simply wanted more from such a powerful story.
In essence, I wanted more fire from this flick. A feeling of empowerment. Tubman freed over a thousand slaves, creating the underground railroad path for enslaved souls to find their new life. She lived until 91 years of age, and lived one of the most meaningful lives one could possibly dream of back then.
This movie fails to live up to that reputation and overall life.
Erivo gives an impassioned performance. She leans into this role, even if she doesn’t change a rotation of two expressions for the entire two hour-plus movie. She isn’t Oscar-worthy here, but plays the part with every ounce of talent she has in her body. It’s her performance that keeps the film from being a Lifetime movie of the week.
Harriet Tubman constantly said she could hear the voice of God in her everyday life, thus giving her the ability to see an event in her head before it happened. I’m not so sure about all that “Matrix” stuff, but she was a pioneer in a time that direly needed a hero to come forward.
“Harriet” tries to live up to that legend, but fails in the end.