(I) (2019)

Critic Reviews



Based on 41 critic reviews provided by Metacritic.com
The result falls somewhere between a slave-escape drama, an action thriller, a western and even an unexpected kind of superhero film. It’s a winning combination, although Lemmons does not immerse us in the agony and injustice of slavery as such; she puts together a well-crafted movie that is the showcase for an excellent performance from Erivo.
If its aim to inspire and educate inevitably leaves the movie feeling a little classroom-bound, Harriet is still an impassioned, edifying portrait of a remarkable life, and a fitting showcase for the considerable talents of its star, Tony-winning British actress Cynthia Erivo.
Despite Erivo's tenacity in the role, the drama feels more stately and impressive than urgent and affecting. It's never uninvolving though, and the script does a solid job of tracing the formation of a courageous freedom fighter out of a scared runaway.
A thoughtful biopic that grows more involving the more it shrugs off its tendency towards the reverential.
Harriet is a conscientiously uplifting, devoted, rock-solid version of her story. Yet when it comes to putting the audience in touch with what’s extraordinary about Harriet Tubman — not just illustrating what she did but letting us connect with that quest, and with her, on a moment-to-moment level — Harriet is a conventional and rather prosaic piece of filmmaking.
It doesn’t have the polish or prestige of your typical Oscar movie ... But there’s a tension at work in Harriet that’s missing from other, “better” movies. ... It’s also a vaster and in many ways wilder film than it will get credit for, a movie that leans into the excitement of Tubman’s mission so energetically it almost morphs into a heist picture, dredging up odd romantic and religious energies along the way.
Harriet doesn’t reinvent the biopic formula, but Erivo’s performance injects a palpable urgency to the material that makes up for missed time.
Ultimately, the lack of risk-taking not only makes for a pedantic experience but ironically serves Tubman very poorly, never allowing for Erivo’s performance or the spirit of the subject to ever feel truly free.
Drawing from Tubman’s devout belief and history of seizures and visions, the film makes much of her visions, divine interventions which seem to appear anytime it’s dramatically convenient, alerting her to danger with considerable specificity. This magical-thinking approach to religion is a dramatic crutch for a film that maintains a hindsight perspective on Tubman, leaving a lot of blanks in its historical account and delegating much of Tubman and the Underground Railroad’s process and organization to supporting characters to handle offscreen.
A disappointingly standard biopic, one whose technical flaws and paint-by-numbers clichés threaten to overshadow its subject’s compelling story.

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