Review: ‘The Birth Of A Nation’ Powerfully Reclaims Turner’s Rebellion
Nate Parker’s very good Sundance sensation arrives during prime Oscar season.
Arriving after its rapturous Sundance premiere, record breaking acquisition with Fox Searchlight, strong (though waning) Oscar buzz, and plenty of controversy with the director’s past actions and current statements, Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation” FINALLY opens in theaters across the country this weekend! It takes place in a familiar antebellum South for this pre-Civil War era, “The Birth of a Nation” follows Nat Turner (Nate Parker), a literate slave and preacher, whose financially struggling owner, Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer), accepts an offer to use Nat’s preaching to subdue unruly slaves by reading pro-slavery scripture passages. As Mr. Turner confronts numerous act of torture (some even against himself and his loved one), Nat organizes a brutal uprising motivated to be a free people.
Cinematics (Cinematography, Acting, Plot, etc.) – 4
Retelling Nat Turner’s slave revolt from a different perspective made for a fascinating watch. Audiences are accustomed to keeping slavery at a distance especially when classic movies such as “Gone With The Wind” romanticize the era. Reclaiming the title “Birth of a Nation” from the D.W. Griffith film is an act of cinematic boldness. There’s a delicate balance of showcasing the brutal and the beautiful in “The Birth of a Nation” and Nate Parker mostly succeeds in pulling this off. Considering this is a directorial debut, it is an impressive display of talent in front of and behind the camera for Mr. Parker.
There were a few things I admired in “The Birth of a Nation” despite its imperfections. Considering the small budget, the production value was a staggering achievement. Nate Parker’s passion project made it on the screen after years of getting it off the ground. You can see his sweat, blood, and tears. The ensemble acting was very good and the highlights for me (besides Parker) include Aunjanue Ellis as Nancy Turner and to my surprise Armie Hammer as Samuel Turner. Finally, it is a traditional bio-pic that we have grown so accustomed to watching that it seems like a journey of a familiar story.
The screenplay doesn’t shy away from the harsh conditions of slavery. I was also surprised that Nat Turner’s Christianity was on display often quoting Scripture. This isn’t common in a mainstream, wide release movie. There’s a lot of the Bible in here, much more than I expected, as well as examples of people using it for good as well as bad. As a believer, I wanted to see more discussions with the theological discussions of slavery within a Christian context and society. This is an issue in a historical context that modern Christian audiences need to confront.
Entertainment Value – 4
Rating this on an entertaining scale is tough, if not impossible, because it has such hard to watch moments that are seared into my mind. From the torture to the rape, this was a cruel and dark time in American history told in a bold and furious demeanor.
“The Birth of a Nation” was a riveting and engaging watch. My eyes were captivated on to the screen even during the slower moments of character development and plot advancement. Being constantly immersed in the history and the detail of the era through out most of “The Birth of a Nation,” I was on the edge of my seat especially during the climatic moments of the fighting and rebellion.
Re-Watchability – 4
“The Birth of a Nation” is one to re-watch, but I don’t know if I would want to. Tough call, but it has all of the elements that would garner multiple viewings. I think white evangelicals who typically have Mel Gibson’s “Braveheart” memorized (by attending years of men’s retreats) would in theory love “The Birth of a Nation,” because they are very similar movies. They should give this a chance. Church attending suburbanites who watched “American Sniper” instead of “Selma” won’t feel as connected to the historical drama. However, culturally they would probably prefer a Pure Flix faith based comfort food like “God’s Not Dead” instead. Essentially Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation” is “Braveheart” for African American congregations and likewise much more resonant and relevant for their past and current struggles.
Nate Parker's "The Birth of a Nation" is a powerful historical drama packed with a stunning production and emotional resonance.