‘Native Son’ Review: Ashton Sanders Carries Tough Update to Classic Tale — Sundance

‘Native Son’ Review: Ashton Sanders Carries Tough Update to Classic Tale — Sundance
Native Son” transforms the classic protagonist from Richard Wright’s 1940 novel into a green-haired punk rocker, but director Rashid Johnson’s harrowing adaptation is more faithful than it looks. The plight of Bigger Thomas (“Moonlight” breakout Ashton Sanders), an impoverished young black man whose life falls apart under violent circumstances, delivers a compelling vessel for the simmering anger and frustration of racial persecution that suits the present moment. The most upsetting aspect of the movie is how little must change to give his plight a contemporary spin.

Visual artist Johnson’s directorial debut is attuned to the challenge of realizing the novel in cinematic terms. The expressionistic visual polish aided by ace cinematographer Matthew Libatique (“A Star Is Born”) roots Bigger in the dense crowds and sprawling abandoned warehouses of modern-day Chicago, while Sanders’ first major role after “Moonlight” is rich with the alternating modes of passion, terror, and resentment
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