Movie review: The Birth of a Nation

Movie reviews

Hello!

After a long thought process whether to even see and support this movie, I decided to separate the picture from the filmmaker (as hard as it was to do, as the aforementioned person wrote, directed, produced, and starred in the film). I was also super curious to see whether this movie was worth all the hype that it generated before it crashed and burned. So, let’s allow the art to speak for itself and review The Birth of a Nation.

IMDb summary: Nat Turner, a literate slave and preacher in the antebellum South, orchestrates an uprising.

If you are not familiar with the scandal that surrounded the release of this movie, I suggest you just google the name of its filmmaker  – Nate Parker – and make your own impressions of him. I have my own thoughts and I don’t really want to state them her or repeat the controversial tale and also, as I said, I’m trying to judge the film by itself, so let’s get on with the review.

Writing

The Birth of a Nation, even though it shares its name with the infamous movie from 1915, tells a different story from that film. 2016’s picture’s plot revolves around the life of Nat Turner, who led a bloody and grueling slave rebellion in 1831. The majority of the film depicts his life before the rebellion and notes the important events that led him to the decision of rebelling. As all movies on the issues of slavery, the film angered me a lot. The blatantly racist moments were hard to watch, but I do think that Turner’s story was an important one and had to be told. I also appreciated the lighter scenes in the film, that showed the tiny specs of happiness that the slaves had a chance to feel. I would also like to note that this movie’s story was as much a story of religion as of slavery.

The actual rebellion was hard to watch and I, personally, had mixed feelings on it. On one hand, I wanted to root for the slaves, finally getting their revenge. On the other, I understood that I was rooting for murder. From the narrative structure point of view, I felt that the movie was a bit too long and I did feel that it dragged at times. I caught myself losing focus from the story a couple of times, and I think that if the pacing was a bit faster, the picture might have been even more compelling.

Directing

As a director, Parker did impress me. The film was visually interesting and the graphic content was not just there to be shocking – I felt that it was included to prove a point and to show the real cruelty and the real violence of those years. The film indeed was the most brutal movie on slavery I have seen (even the 12 Years a Slave lashing scene was nothing compared to this) and some scenes were extremely hard to watch. In addition, the opening of the film, as well as other forest sequences, were unusual and exciting additions. The historical events were well dramatized, the emotional weight was there, and the story came across clearly and neatly for the most part. Whether you see Turner as a hero or a criminal, I glad that his story was told. Having said that, I don’t think that the movie lived up to all the hype it created. To me, it did not seem like the perfect movie that deserved the guaranteed Oscar wins and the huge festival deals.

Acting

All the cast did a really good job with their roles. Parker delivered a stunning performance – I would even argue that he was a better actor than the director. Armie Hammer provided great support, but I do think that he should start portraying different characters since I have seen him as a rich white businessman/owner type of a character a bunch of times already. Other standouts from the cast included Aja Naomi King and Gabrielle Union. I really hope that their career won’t be hindered because of their involvement in this film and the unfortunate events that surrounded it.

In short, The Birth of a Nation was a well-made film that was heavy to watch. However, it was not a groundbreaking movie and I don’t think it was necessarily better than other films on the same topic, like 12 Years a Slave or The Butler.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: The Birth of a Nation trailer

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Movie review: Suffragette

Movie reviews

Hello!

One of the good things about living in the UK is getting British films early. However, nowadays, finding time to review them is pretty problematic. So, in honor of Suffragette’s limited release in the US (a week later), let’s review it!

IMDb summary: The foot soldiers of the early feminist movement, women who were forced underground to pursue a dangerous game of cat and mouse with an increasingly brutal State.

Feelings

Personally, I get really angry when watching movies about minority rights. Although, I should not call women a minority, since we inhabit half of the world. Anyway, Suffragette, like 12 Years a Slave, Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom, The Butler, and a plethora of other movies, angered me in a good kind of way – in a way that makes you want to do something with your life and change the world for the better. For this reason, I believe that everyone should watch Suffragette. In addition, I appreciate movie industry’s efforts to bring important issues to the forefront. How many people would actually research historical facts themselves? But when you put the same story into a visual media format, it instantly gets more attention.

Story&Writing

The film’s script was written by Abi Morgan – a British playwright and screenwriter. I have not seen her previous films, but would love to check them out someday, when I have time to do that. I believe that she did justice to this story. I would like to discuss a few plot points:

  1. The thing that really added a lot of flame into my overall angry/inspired physiological state after watching the film was the male characters. And not the ones who were actual douche bags. The main character’s husband was a terrible person. He acted like a victim and then just gave his son away. Even the detective, who was trying to stop Suffragette movement was a more likable character since he at least could justify his actions by saying that he was only trying to enforce the law (though, the law was definitely wrong that time). But the husband, who should have been supportive, was a complete disappointment. The film did a great job of reversing the roles of male characters and playing upon the viewers’ (or at least my) expectations.
  2. The movie also portrayed the fact that not all women wanted to fight for the cause. And while I disagree with their decision, I still believe that they were entitled to choose. I have already explained to you that I believe in feminism (contemporary way of fighting for women’s rights) as a choice when I reviewed Cinderella. Also, I have recently studied lots of fairy-tales in my English course at university and definitely realized that these stories are not as black and white as one might think.
  3. I loved how the film portrayed Suffragettes as a group. Although the movie focused a lot on one individual, you could still sense that she was a part of something bigger.
  4. Lastly, the end credits included the list of historical dates when women received voting rights in various countries. And sadly, some of the dates were not past but present ones. This just shows that the fight is not over and we have a long way to go. The film’s narrative also portrayed the idea of a long fight: the film was set in 1912 and the actual voting rights in the UK were received only in 1918 (partly) and in 1928 (fully). Other countries established equal voting even later.

Directing&Visuals

Suffragette was directed by Sarah Gavron who had her start making documentaries and later transitioned into narrative films. It is not really surprising that this film was made by a female director since it tackles women’s issues. However, I am really happy that it was directed by a woman, because I do not think that a male voice could have brought this story to live in a proper way. Although, I am not the kind of movie goer who pays a lot of attention to gender, race or skin color of a director, screenwriter or an actor and I believe in absolute equality, I still think that some individuals can tackle some issues better than others. I love how I contradict myself in the same sentence. Eh, what the heck: we can have ‘to each their own’ and ‘everything to all’ in the 21st century.

Talking about the visual aspects of the film, I have to admit that I did not really noticed them since the narrative was so strong. It overpowered both the Mise-En-Scene and Cinematography or it would be better to say that all three elements worked in perfect unison to create a flawless continuity. On a side note, some scenes for the film were filmed in the actual Houses of Parliament! 

Acting

  • Carey Mulligan as Maud Watts was a great leading lady. Her on-screen transition was simultaneously heartbreaking and empowering. Mulligan did a great job. I am a fan of hers – especially loved her last film – Far From The Madding Crowd – where she also played a strong female in a male world in a slightly different (earlier) period. She has also previously worked with the screenwriter of Suffragette in 2011’s Shame.
  • Helena Bonham Carter as Edith Ellyn was also amazing as one would expect. I became a fan of hers back when she was in Harry Potter films, but I also really loved The King’s Speech, Les Miserables and Alice, which she also has starred in. Interesting fact, according to Wikipedia, Bonham Carter is the great-granddaughter of H. H. Asquith, who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1908–16, the prime years of the suffrage movement, which he opposed. Great granddaughter is going against her great granddad’s will – props to her.
  • Meryl Streep as Emmeline Pankhurst was also a nice addition to the cast. However, I can definitely understand why a lot of people were angry about the false advertisement. Streep had one scene/speech in the film and one encounter with our main character and while she definitely played an important figure of the movement (the leader), she should not have been put on the poster of the film. I would not even call her a supporting actress in this film, at best it was a cameo appearance.
  • Natalie Press as Emily Davison. Interestingly, I was not familiar with this actress only a few weeks ago, but then we watched the short film Wasp by Andrea Arnold in the film class. I really enjoyed that short movie, which portrayed raw social realism realistically. It was one of Press’s early films and she was great back then and is still a great actress now. She should have had that 3rd spot on the poster because of that spoiler-y reason at the end.
  • The cast also included Anne-Marie Duff as Violet Miller. I loved the contrast between her’s and Mulligan’s characters: one was becoming more fearless and independent, while another had to lose her independence for, again, a spoiler-y reason.
  • The two males of the film, whose stories I have already discussed were played by Brendan Gleeson (the detective) and Ben Whishaw (the husband). Previously, I have only seen Gleeson in Harry Potter films as well as in Edge of Tomorrow and Stonehearts Asylum. He will also star in In the Heart of Sea later this year. Speaking about Whishaw, I am a fan of his since Cloud Atlas, so it was quite weird to not like him as a character because he usually plays very likeable ones. He will also star in In the Heart of Sea, which comes out on Christmas, but we will also see him in Spectre next week. He will also be in The Danish Girl – another quite controversial film, which I can’t wait for. Whishaw sure is having a busy 2015.

All in all, Suffragette was a great movie about an important issue. While it might not be an entertaining film to watch, it is definitely an important one. This historical and, at the same time, very recent story was brought to life by amazing on screen performances and splendid off screen work.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Suffragette trailer

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