Friday, October 7, 2016

The Birth of a Nation - Review

   A biographical drama can be hit or miss more so than any other genre. The film has to stay true to the time period and it’s inhabitants while also crafting a coherent narrative around interesting characters. The Birth of a Nation is the newest biographical film to be released, telling the story of Nat Turner. Premiering earlier this year at Sundance, the hype was through the roof, but does the film live up to it?

   Nat Turner (Nate Parker) is an enslaved Baptist preacher who lives on a Virginia plantation owned by Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer). With rumors of insurrection in the air, a cleric convinces Samuel that Nate should sermonize to other slaves, thereby quelling any notions of an uprising. As Nate witnesses the horrific treatment of his fellow man, he realizes that he can no longer just stand by and preach. On Aug. 21, 1831, Turner's quest for justice and freedom leads to a violent and historic rebellion in Southampton County.

   The story of Nat Turner and his rebellion is certainly a story that deserves to be told and The Birth of a Nation does a fairly good job. The theme regarding religion and how it was used to justify mindsets back then is something that strangely can be tied to today. And while there are some slow spots, the overall structure works as a build up for when everything blows up.

   Despite being the main character, Nat Turner gets very little depth beyond being a noble man. Nate Parker does deliver a pretty great performance even with the lack of characterization. Nat Turner is really the only character to get a significant amount of screen time and thus the only performance worth noting.

   As far as directorial debuts go, Nate Parker has a fairly solid outing here. The film is crafted exceptionally well and beautifully shot from start to finish. There are times where Parker tries to be too artistic and it shows, but the overall film overcomes these decisions. It’s really brutal and emotional as most films surrounding slavery tend to be, but the comeuppance that falls upon the slave owners is dependent on Nat Turner making the mental shift from seeing these horrendous events.


   Overall, The Birth of a Nation is an emotionally moving and brutal film. The work of Nate Parker as an actor, writer, and director comes together to create a film that is worth seeing about a story that’s even more worthy of being told. There are some slip ups that are common for first time directors but the narrative withstands these errors for a beautifully made film.  

   So what did you think of The Birth of a Nation? Have you seen it and what's the best historical drama of the past 5 years? Subscribe, share, comment below, and as always return to I Am Sam for weekly reviews and insight.