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REVIEW — “The Birth Of A Nation”

“Good Lord!”

The Birth Of A Nation is written and directed by Nate Parker, and has a cast featuring: Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Penelope Ann Miller, Jackie Earle Haley, Mark Boone Junior, Colman Domingo, Aunjanue Ellis, Dwight Henry, and Aja Naomi King. It tells the story of Nat Turner, an enslaved Baptist preacher who witnesses the horrific treatment of his fellow man and realizes that he can no longer just stand by and preach, and on Aug. 21, 1831, leads the first successful slave rebellion in history. Despite the controversy surrounding the director, The Birth Of A Nation is an undeniably powerful and moving film that manages to have enough raw emotion to excuse its many issues.

Nate Parker makes his directorial debut here and it is very apparent, whether that’s a good thing or not is still up for debate. A huge amount of passion is present here and it bleeds through every frame, Nate Parker the director is the real star here. He is able to draw very emotional performances out of every single actor, even the extras. That being said it, at times, comes across at very amateur.  He hasn’t really found his footing in the director’s chair, and in small portions of the flick, it’s painfully obvious. Now, I respect all the passion he put into the project, and I can guarantee he made exactly what he intended to, but some of it simply doesn’t work. It’s to the point where the first 15 minutes could have been removed and had no effect on the overall plot.

In regards to the cast, they are the best part. I could go down the list, but everyone here is devoted to their role and give powerful performances. They elevate The Birth Of A Nation much higher than it deserved to be. The standouts are Nate Parker, Colman Domingo, and Aunjanue Ellis. Nate Parker gives the best performance here, but he wrote the script so that’s no surprise. The preaching scenes are phenomenal and Nate truly shines; He really is Oscar worthy. Colman Domingo gives a very subdued, yet effective, performance. Armie Hammer also does a good job here and goes toe to toe with Nate in some scenes. The only actor that really didn’t work for me was Jackie Earle Haley. I may be going against popular opinion, but I genuinely didn’t enjoy his performance. He was very one note and had no emotion behind his lines which is strange for Jackie as he always gives great performances, but maybe this falls more on the script and direction than him.

Nate Parker wrote the script, and it’s, unfortunately, the worst part. It kind of sums up the whole film; Some truly phenomenal parts that sadly come with a lot of mediocre side pieces. The script does vary from truly impactful scenes to generic cookie cutter scenes. A very, very forced love story is present and it seriously slowed the story down to a slow crawl. While the actor’s portrayed the characters very well, the love story only served as one of the many driving forces for Nat Turner and ended up being one of the worst story lines. My main issue with the script is the spiritual story line. I see what the point of having it was, but it added no greater significance to the film and honestly, whenever it cut back to it I rolled my eyes. It detracted from the more emotional elements and frankly. just confused audience members. But when the script is great it’s something special, and it’s a shame the mediocre plot points dull its shine.

On a more technical level, The Birth Of Nation was nothing too special. The editing was surprisingly sloppy, and at moments it gets distracting to the point that it’s bad and severely hurts some scenes. The score is very fitting for the tone and intensifies scenes, so it does its job. The cinematography is gorgeous. Long panning shots of cotton fields and crisp forests dazzle the screen. It has a very muted color pallet but manages to have vibrant and graphic imagery. The tone of the film is very urgent as you wait for Nat to finally snap and start his revolution, and when he does, for the most part, it’s great. The first attack scene is fantastic. It’s full of provocative imagery, great acting, strangely satisfying deaths and a pulse-pounding score. That being said the actual “fight” scene shown in the trailer is very underwhelming. It has moments of emotion that don’t feel earned, and moments that could have really hit the audience are ruined by, you guessed it, the editing. I also didn’t care for the final bit they put at the end as it felt shoe-horned in.

In short, The Birth of a Nation is a powerful mixed bag of excellence and mediocrity. For every phenomenal element, there are two that are just okay. While the hype for this may not have been warranted it’s worth seeing simply for the emotion poured into it. Nate Parker crafted this with love. It’s unfortunately been in thrown into controversy now over his personal issues, but it really is an impactful film. 3/5

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