Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5.
Nate Parker‘s debut as feature writer and director also stars him in the lead role as Nat Turner, born a slave in early nineteenth century Virginia on a cotton plantation. As an adult, the estate is run by his childhood playmate ( ), who finds a way to relieve the financial woes of his indebted property by hiring Nat out as a preacher. Having been taught to read as a small child by Hammer’s mother (a game but confused ), Turner has grown into an inspirational spiritual leader whose power is used against the slaves of other plantations; the owners are concerned about restlessness among the people whose humanity they have denied for so long, and want Nat to use the parts of the Bible most likely to encourage submission. The horrors that our protagonist witnesses on the road, after seeing plenty of his own at home, reach a breaking point when the evils of the land’s overseers bring trauma upon his own household, and Turner’s Christlike cool turns to Old Testament fury and rage. Based on a true story of a two-day slave revolt that ended in a bloodbath, Turner’s film has key moments of brilliance but is ultimately a letdown, never quite finding its line between sincere biopic and ironic revenge thriller. The powerful depictions of abuse and injustice are convincing and unforgettable, but the interactions between characters have a scent of corny contrivance; Parker’s using the title of D.W. Griffith’s seminal blockbuster to both rehabilitate any false notions of America’s past and point out that film’s fraudulence once and for all is a clever and rebellious move, but the more the film progresses, the more the drama seems to be a celebration of Parker’s ego and not a galvanizing investigation of history. Taking the rebellion of people who have been abused to the point of having no other reality but violence and turning it into a Braveheart battle is, in theory, sympathetic, there’s no denying the heroism of anyone who survived however long they could under so monstrous a regime, but it is executed with little conviction and ultimately makes the film feel shallow.