Watched Date: 5/2/2020
It’s a surprise it took Hollywood this long of a wait to finally do a biopic of one of the greatest American heroes to ever live- Harriet Tubman. Basically, she a real-life superhero to everybody. Schools would require teachings about her as a way of making us believe she’s willing to help those out. Harriet was the chance to see how freedom changed her ways for the better in a film that’s not perfect, but keeps your attention, for the most part.
What’s the Story: From her escape from slavery through the dangerous missions she led to liberate hundreds of slaves through the Underground Railroad, the story of heroic abolitionist Harriet Tubman (Cynthia Erivo), previously Araminta “Minty” Ross, is told.
The sole reason to even watch this is for the amazing performance given from Erivo, who earned a Best Actress nomination after this release. She is one of those actresses I’ve been waiting to see in future movies since her breakout roles in 2018’s Bad Times at the El Royale and Widows, two movies I felt were underwhelming, but she was a highlight in each of them. Portraying a legend like Harriet Tubman is a huge opportunity in her career. She truly carried this role and does a splendid job at making us really care about her character from the beginning where she’s the one who’s leading those enslaved on the path of freedom. If there was anyone else that wasn’t her, the entire movie probably would fall flat. Plus, I keep forgetting she’s British; her American accent is great.
Kasi Lemmons’ (Talk to Me, Black Nativity) direction wasn’t too bad for a biopic like this. When it came down to the script by her and Gregory Allen Howard (Remember the Titans), this turned out to be a formulaic biopic that should’ve been equally moving and powerful. Here, we were given the most basic information to know about Tubman. Certain moments that were in here might not have been accurate from what I saw, but it’s the kind of biopic that’s adapted from a history textbook that’s easy to get the knowledge. There’s a possibility some might think the opposite and just thought it carried the way it was. It’s a shame to say that since even though I wasn’t originally going to see this at the movies, I expected this to be, somewhat, memorable, yet it wasn’t as focused as I thought it would, as it’s suited better as an original movie you see on HBO.
It’s two hours, and it mostly plays out like a well-constructed play or a presentation of this person that wasn’t grabbing most of my attention. Watching her saving the slaves didn’t come out as dramatic since they were fast-paced and too easy without the stakes, and when she has these flashbacks occurring throughout, I didn’t know how I was supposed to feel when the surrounding editing almost ruined it when it doesn’t go deep into her life. And this has a score by Terence Blanchard that swells up everything and didn’t make a scene better when it really wants you to feel emotional during a moment, which he tends to do that will either make or break the pieces he’s doing.
As for the supporting cast, they all play second fiddle to Erivo, but they were fine. That’s what happens when you have a powerful lead performance overshadowing everyone else. Joe Alwyn plays the racist a-hole well to make the viewer completely hate him. Leslie Odom Jr. as William Still is always a welcome screen presence. I was expecting a lot more from Janelle Monáe as boarding house owner Marie Buchanon, but she’s pretty much wasted in here, which is a bummer because the scenes she was in weren’t too bad for playing a fictionalized character. But out of everybody, singer Jennifer Nettles as Eliza Brodess was the weakest in terms of her over-the-top acting that wasn’t believable.
In the end, I wanted Harriet to be this extraordinary drama that will get people who don’t know about this hero get a lot more from this, yet it’s only alright when the flaw is that a by-the-numbers biopic that might not leave any memorable space when it’s over, something I didn’t expect from someone like Lemmons. But it’s still worth the time just for Erivo’s performance alone, or if you’ve always wanted to see this figure from history get the film treatment. Who knows if another movie based on the subject would be an improvement in the future.