Film Review – The Birth Of A Nation (2016)

History can never be re-written, many will try to deny what’s happened in the past. Our history no matter how positive or negative we must tell the stories and Nate Parker‘s The Birth Of A Nation is one of those stories. The story of Nate Turner and 1831 slave rebellion.

At the start of 2016 Nate Parker’s movie was the darling of the Sundance Film Festival and has been hotly tipped to be a big winner at next year’s Oscars. For the early part of 2016 things were looking good and on the eve of the U.S, theatrical release things went drastically downhill. Largely all thanks to a rape allegation from 1999 against Parker and this movie’s writer, turning everything sour and making that $17.5 million price tag a tad more extortionate.

Sharing a movie title with D.W Griffith‘s 1915 silent epic which technically a cinematic milestone, but a movie that helped boost the Ku Klux Klan’s membership. If Parker’s 2016 version was meant to give everything a balance and a purpose, sadly it’s one that’s formulaic, heavy-handed, sadly very disappointing.

Set in the antebellum South, Nater Turner (Parker) as a child was taught to read by his master’s wife (Penelope Ann Miller) who over time turned Nate into a Preacher. As he became an adult Nate’s friend Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer)becomes the plantation owner and his master, financially in trouble.

Samuel gets a financial proposition which sees Nate hired out to other plantation owners to preach to the enslaved and prevent insurrection. As they travel around the plantations Nate starts to witness the countless atrocities his fellow slave’s experience leading him to orchestrate one of the bloodiest short-lived uprisings in recorded history.

You can’t deny the ambition and passion in Nate Parker‘s directorial feature debut.You feel that Parker didn’t realise the size of his movie, The Birth Of A Nation and opted for a movie that was too conventional. His actual performance we have no complaints with even at times he was way too melodramatic. The rest of the cast became too secondary coming across more like Parker’s fan club.Those who got a chance to shine (Colman Domingo, Aja Naomi King) became more like the movie version of Football Manager ‘Yes-Men’.

They say the two biggest catalysts responsible for conflicts and wars worldwide are Oil and Religion. In this movie, religion played a big part to how the oppressors and enslaved lived. A means to use the bible to conduct slavery to control the masses, just like how Nate uses the good book as a mean to resort to violence.

The Birth Of A Nation, Parker goes at it like a Duracell power but the signs were there, he was crying out for a strong mentor to guide him. Someone like Steve McQueen or Steven Spielberg, fantastic filmmakers who understand and know how to dissect a story. One steeped in history but  Parker seems to be unwilling to address slavery head-on.

Parker did get a mentor and it was Mel Gibson who may be a great storyteller but what we get is something like a straightforward revenge movie ala Slaveheart. Messy, confusing, tone uneven, underwhelming and a missed opportunity to tell a story correctly.

★★

History, Biography, Drama | USA, 2016 | 15 | Fox Searchlight UK | 9th December 2016 (UK) |Dir.Nate Parker | Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Aja Naomi King, Colman Domingo, Penelope Ann Miller, Jackie Earle Haley

Originally posted at The Peoples Movies |9th December 2016

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