Review by Dan Skip Allen
Guy Ritchie has been directing movies for quite a while. His career has spanned over two and a half decades. He has a distinctive style of storytelling and filmmaking. Most of his films, including Snatch, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and RocknRolla, have a very kinetic style to them. They have plenty of characters that talk fast and act just as fast. With these films, you have to pay attention because a lot is going on and it's moving very quickly. The Gentlemen is very similar to these other films in a lot of ways, and that's a very good thing.
Ritchie's films have quite a few characters in them so there are a lot of moving parts. Matthew McConaughey portrays Mickey Pearson, a man who is at the head of a drug ring. Charlie Hunnam portrays Ray, his assistant. Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey) portrays his wife Rosiland. Hugh Grant portrays a reporter named Fletcher who has his own agenda involving Mickey. A couple more key players in the film are Drye Eye portrayed by Henry Goulding (Crazy Rich Asians) Matthew portrayed by Jeremy Strong (Succession), and Coach portrayed by Colin Ferrell. This film like Ritchie's others has plenty of colorful characters. They all play a part in the puzzle that is The Gentlemen.
With Ritchie's films and crime films comes the blood and violence that come along with them. The Gentlemen isn't short on either. These elements play into the overall story perfectly. Things come up that are very shocking and surprising. These events are very enjoyable as well, and sometimes even funny. These funny parts were more spread out through the film. The film starts slowly, but it picks up soon and gets into the story relatively quickly after that.
One of the things that make Ritchie films so intriguing is the script and the dialogue therein. In his films, characters have to say a lot of complicated dialogue. The thing is the actors say the dialogue with precision and professionalism. They use their cockney accents terrifically to deliver this dialogue. This is part of the charm of these films. They have a humor and aesthetic to them arguably not seen in very many films before or since.
The Gentlemen has a great sense of style and awareness of itself. It has a feeling of being meta as well. This is what's so good about this film. It was so well done in so many different ways. Ritchie really captured this genre to some extent as Scorsese and Coppola did. Is it as great as The Godfather or Scorsese's crime films? No, but it's damn good though. The performances by this first-rate cast are all fantastic. The script is also very good. The story kept me intrigued throughout the film. Ritchie has gotten back on the right side of things. With Aladdin and now The Gentlemen, he has proven that he is a very good writer and director.
The Gentlemen opens in theaters on January 24.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Rex Harrison first brought the character of Dr. John Dolittle to life back in 1967. Eddie Murphy made a change in his film roles in the 1990's. He made a distinct effort to change his image. Previously he did raunchy buddy comedies like Beverly Hills Cop and 48 Hrs, but when had children in the 90's so he decided to do more children centric roles like The Nutty Professor and Dr. Dolittle. He had a different take on the character then Harrison, but it was still the same lovable character.
Now, Robert Downey Jr. takes up the mantle. He has portrayed Tony Stark/Iron Man for over a decade now. During that time he hasn't done much else, but Dr. Dolittle is a far different role than he's ever portrayed before. It might actually be the role that gets him out of the typecasting he got within the MCU.
When the film picks up, this version of Dr. Dolittle is a disheveled shell of himself. He doesn't want to be involved with healing animals or want to talk to anybody. When an innocent young boy Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett) and a young Lady from Buckingham Palace (Carmel Laniado) stumble upon his sanctuary, he has no choice but to listen to their cases: one of an injured squirrel and the other of a sick Queen that needs his aid. This gets Dolittle out of his hermit stage and gets him out into the world again. The stage has been set for an adventure to get off and running.
With the ability to heal and talk to animals inevitably comes... talking animals. Dolittle captures the feeling of some of the more successful talking animal films to some extent. This version of the Dolittle story has a lot of talking animals! A Duck voiced by Octavia Spencer, a gorilla portrayed by Rami Malek,a polar bear voiced by John Cena, a dog voiced by Tom Holland, an ostrich voiced by Kumail Nanjiani, and a cockatoo voiced by Emma Thompson are just some of the voices that are featured in this film. They all have prominent roles in the overall story. They are all distinctly different from each other and set each character apart. That said, there are plenty of human characters as well. Michael Sheen, Jim Broadbent, and Antonio Banderas headline the human characters besides Dolittle himself. This cast was very memorable one!
Dolittle could have gotten convoluted, but it didn't. It had the right mix of talking animals and humans. The 106 minute runtime went by in a flash. The film really knew what's its focus was and it stuck to that. There wasn't any wasted scenes while also giving everybody there just do. If the behind the scenes drama was true, I didn't notice it during the film. This was a very employable experience to say the least. Here's hoping we see more Downey roles like this in the near future. He really put his unique spin on this iconic character. He even created a tone of voice that was different than expected. It took a minute to get used to, but a nice change from his normal voice. Dolittle should be a nice January surprise for those looking for an entertaining family film with a good story, some action and adventure, while also giving you some laughs.
Dolittle is now playing in theaters.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Courtroom dramas are one of the better genres of movies. Each year a few courtroom dramas come out, but 2019 has had its fair share of them. These films tend to pull on the heartstrings of those watching them. Just Mercy is no different. However, it does have a little more going for it than most films of the genre: a personal story that comes to the forefront.
Bryan Stevenson (Michael B Jordan) is a young upstart lawyer who just finished law school. He's looking to make a difference, so he moves to Alabama to start the Equal Justice Initiative, where he tries to get death row inmates off of death row. One of them is Walter McMillan (Jamie Foxx), a man who was convicted of murdering an 18 year old girl. He gets an eye opening experience once he gets to work.
Like most courtroom dramas, Just Mercy has its fair share of shady characters and malfeasance. These characters help move the story along but not fast enough. This film has a slow period in the middle. It takes a little longer to get to the crux of the story, that of Walter McMillan. The film tries to deal with both his story and Stevenson's story equally, but one doesn't work without the other. That said, Destin Daniel Cretton, the director and co-writer, balances them perfectly once the film finally focuses itself.
Cretton is known for Short Term 12 (his breakout film) and The Glass Castle. Both films he worked with Brie Larson, and they work together once again in Just Mercy. Ava Ansley (Brie Larson) is a law clerk working for Stevenson. Cretton surrounds Stevenson with good supporting characters that help round out the film, including Ansley and her family. They help define the world and time this film takes place in.
As far as Michael B. Jordan, this isn't the best film for his talents. I think the more action films are better suited for his abilities. He is just not that believable as this lawyer who is fighting for death row inmates. He really is a good actor but maybe this wasn't the best role for him. Jamie Foxx is another story. He seemed right at home portraying this man knocked down by society. He is very believable as a man beaten down by the system. That's why Foxx is garnering awards consideration for his performance.
Just Mercy hinges on the performances. Most of them work in the film. As an overall film experience its a satisfactory film. The emotional scenes work very well. Cretton has done a good job transitioning from his other films but also kept his style and dramatic flair.
Just Mercy is now playing in theaters.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Kristen Stewart has come a long way since her days of the Twilight Franchise. She's been shoehorned in as Bella Swan her whole career, but she has actually had a very eclectic career, choosing mostly very interesting roles. She has done a lot of great things like working with Olivier Assayas on both Personal Shopper and Clouds of Sils Maria or The Runaways where she portrayed Joan Jett. These films have proven she has range as actress, but horror movies haven't been her thing. She chose well with testing the waters in Underwater, proving that she can be a leading lady.
In this occasion, Stewart portrays Norah, a deep sea researcher who has to survive a devastating earthquake to her subterranean laboratory. She and her crew might be facing more than they think.
The rest of the crew is rounded out by some TV and movie veterans. These actors fit well into their roles in this film and worked very well together. Vincent Cassel is the Captain, TJ Miller is the comedic relief, Jessica Henwick portrays Emily and John Gallagher Jr. portrays Smith, who are a couple. Mamoudou Athie also co-stars.
Horror movies usually try to use jump scares to frighten the audience. Underwater succeeds in that regard. The water is dark and you can't see things coming so that makes for scare factors. That aspect of the film was very effective. The characters couldn't see around them even though they had lights so the viewer couldn't either until the last second. Previous water horror movies like Jaws used the unknown as a great equalizer and it works to great effect in Underwater as well. William Eubank, the director, really knew how to use the environment to its full potential.
Underwater was a suspenseful, emotional thrill ride from the very first moment the film started. Once that earthquake started, this film was in full gear. Despite not getting a lot of back story from the main characters, this film was very exciting and entertaining from the start. It was only 95 minutes long, a perfect time span to tell this story. People aren't looking for slow moments in horror movies, they are looking to get scared and Eubank does that to his fullest with this film. Also a very intense score by Marco Belltrami helped intensify the scary moments. This film is worth going Underwater!
Underwater is now playing in theaters.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
In a world devoid of love, compassion and caring, the Holy Seat is a place that shares its love of God and Jesus. Without a world that embraces them, they are lost. When Pope John Paul II passed away that they had to replace him with another, Cardinal Ratzinger (Anthony Hopkins). He inherits a pulpit in turmoil. The world as a whole doesn't believe in the church anymore. When a scandal is detected within his cabinet this makes matters worse for him, causing him to request the audience of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce), his harshest critic, to come visit him in Rome. Here these two men would try to build a bridge to form a better understanding of each other and the world as a whole.
Flashbacks will help the viewer to a better understanding of Bergoglio's past and why he believes what he does. He is a complicated man at best. His past helps him to understand Ratzinger and his pain that much more. They are involved in a conversation that will help forge a new beginning for the church and its billion followers. This film is based on real events, so stock footage of news broadcasts help to fill in the gaps of the story. They are very effective in that regard. The pulse of the world around the pulpit can be an eye opening experience for the man sitting in the chair of St. Peter, and Ratzinger is affected in this way.
Fernando Mierelles seemed to be granted full access of the Vatican for the film. They walked various halls and locations within the Vatican which provided visual ecstasy during their walks, helping with the authenticity of the film and its characters. The settings, including Ratzinger's summer house, were all beautiful to behold. All of these lavish things Popes get thrust upon them aren't exactly what they signed up for when they became priests years before. They just have to be seen to be a king among men of a following of a billion. They have to look the part. Mierelles creates that world these men live in perfectly to an extent that anyone would be envious of it.
Finding two men to portray the leads in this film couldn't have been an easy task for Mierelles. Even though the two actors are distinctively different from one another, they had to interact quite a bit throughout the film. They needed to have a good chemistry with one another, and Hopkins and Pryce have just that. They play a cat and mouse gave with words, bickering and bantering with each other. This is worth the price of admission alone. These two great actors go back and forth, each gaining and losing ground within this philosophical conversation about the church and its people.
The Two Popes is an entertaining film that asks a lot of questions and answers some of them. This fantastic two-hander gives viewers a reason to rethink their position on religion, the church, and the man at the top. Netflix has made strategic decision to go away from old and established IP's for new and original films and series. This strategy has worked to perfection. Films like The Irishman, Marriage Story, and The Two Popes have given audiences new and distinctive visions from groundbreaking filmmakers. The Two Popes is a vision only Mierelles could create and he does a great job with it.
The Two Popes is now streaming on Netflix.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
From left to right: Donna (Riki Lindholm), Walt (Michael Shannon), Meg (Katherine Langford), Trooper Wagner (Noah Segan), Joni (Toni Collette), Ransom (Chris Evans), Great Nana (K Callan), Jacob (Jaeden Lieberher), Lt. Elliott (LaKeith Stanfield), Richard (Don Johnson), and Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis) in KNIVES OUT.
Murder mystery films aren't anything new to cinemas. Rian Johnson channeled the genre's classics when making Knives Out. He added the mystery and suspense of Ten Little Indians and Murder on the Orient Express and the comedy of Clue to create his own version of a murder mystery, and a brilliant one at that.
When a patriarch of a wealthy family is murdered everybody is a suspect. Everybody has greed in their hearts and motive to boot. Rian Johnson wrote the script for this film as well as directed. He gives all the characters a lot of juicy dialogue. The script is full of witty banter and clever one liners. The two that say the most and eat the scenery are Ransom Drysdale (Chris Evans) and Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig). They both play against type which makes their performances that much more enjoyable. Ransom is a fowl-mouthed snob everybody in the family hates. Blanc has a knack for saying the funniest things at the wrong time.
The cast Johnson assembled is perfection personified. Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Ana de Armas, Lakieth Stanfield, and Toni Collette are just a handful of the phenomenal talent in this film. They all get their moment to shine. Besides Evans and Craig, Ana de Armas is the standout in this film as the caregiver to the head of this family. In her previous films, she has portrayed the sexpot, but she is nothing like that in Knives Out. She might even be good enough for an Academy Award nomination for her role as Marta.
Rian Johnson is best known for writing and directing Brick, Looper and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. After this year people are going forget he wrote and directed those films because Knives Out is his best work to date. There is a reason why all these amazingly talented people jumped onto the project. Once they had a chance to read the script, they knew how brilliant it was and wanted to be a part of something great. Johnson injected this film with a lot of things that make great films. This just shows you don't need a bunch of visual effects and explosions to make a great film.
Knives Out has everything a viewer wants in a great film. Great acting, great script, and great direction all add up to a great film. Johnson added enough twists and turns to keep the audience guessing until the very end. It wouldn't be surprising if it got multiple Academy Award nominations for writing, directing, and multiple acting noms for Best Supporting Actor for Evans and Craig and supporting actress for de Armas. This is one of my favorite films of the year!
Knives Out opens in theaters on November 27.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Childhood can bring a lot of different emotions and things that shape a young person's life. I discovered Scorsese pictures at a young age. Around the age of six, I saw my first Scorsese film: Raging Bull! From that moment on, I was enamored with this director. He told stories about people that seemed real to me, even as a little boy. Films like Mean Streets and Taxi Driver were about grounded people you could meet any day of the week, month, or year. That said, Jake LaMotta was more real as any character I've ever seen in my life.
Yes, Raging Bull was about a middle-weight boxer who had legendary fights with Sugar Ray Robinson, but he was more than that to me. I could relate to him as a person outside the ring. When Jake was arguing about his wife over cooking his steak, that was my father and mother. When he would leave at night and leave Vickie home with the kids and she didn't know where he was going, that was my family. My father rarely came home, and when he did, he and my mother fought like cats and dogs. The violent scene when Jake attacked Joey was reminiscent of my father as well. Anger ran in the family — I had anger issues growing up my entire life until I channeled it into positive things like writing and listening to music.
Taxi Driver really hit home for me because of the fact that Travis Bickle was a misunderstood loner. I could relate once again because I am very similar to him in a lot of ways. I live by myself and I have for quite a while. I am not fond of people that much. Of course people are a necessary evil when going places like restaurants and movie theaters, and in working environments when you have to deal with a lot of people you don't like. Travis found a mission though when he tried to save Iris from Sport. He was also very odd and obnoxious when dealing with Betsey. Scorsese would later revisit this strange odd type of caricature with The King of Comedy, in which De Niro again portrayed the awkward oddball. Both characters don't know when they've gone too far or when to take no for an answer, largely because they are both introverts and don't get the interaction with people that would help them develop people skills better.
Scorsese would eventually return to gangster pictures after his first foray into them with Mean Streets. Goodfellas would once again team him with his friends De Niro, Pesci, and Frank Vincent for this film about Henry Hill, a mobster famously turned FBI informant. Scorsese painted a picture of this glamorous lifestyle and I was hooked from the beginning. The scene where Henry was escorting Karen through the Copacabana with the song "Then He Kissed Me" by The Crystals playing over them was the scene that cinched it for me. This movie was a masterpiece. Scorsese would return once again to this genre with Casino and later The Departed, once again re-teaming with De Niro for the last time until The Irishman. Scorsese and De Niro (with some help from Francis Ford Coppola and Al Pacino) defined this genre.
The Irishman is the latest gangster film in Scorsese’s long history in the genre, but it's a different kind of gangster film than has been brought to the screen before. The Godfather films and Scorsese's own Goodfellas, Casino, and The Departed feature a lot more blood and violence than The Irishman. Even though a couple of these films are based in reality, none of them have been as realistic a take on this genre as The Irishman. Scorsese could only make this film at this point in his storied career as a filmmaker. He crafted an absolute masterpiece!
The Irishman picks up with Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) at a nursing home as he is telling his life story to a priest. His story spans 7 decades, from WWII to the 2010's. During that time, he goes from being a truck driver for the teamsters to a hit man for the mob. Frank meets a lot of notable faces during that time as well. Some of them are Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), Angelo Bruno (Harvey Kietel) Felix "Skinny Razor" Ditullio (Bobby Cannavale), Anthony Provenzano (Stephan Graham), Bill Buffalino (Ray Romano), and most notably Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino).
Most of the heavy lifting in The Irishman is done by De Niro, Pesci, and Pacino, who all give Oscar-worthy performances. De Niro and Pesci give more subdued performances than they have in the past working with Scorsese. Pacino, on the other hand, gives the kind of performance people have come to expect from him. He makes this character of Jimmy Hoffa loud and noticeable for all to see. Without all of these terrific performances from these screen legends, this film wouldn't work. They are the best performances these three have given in decades. It reminds you how great they really are and why they are among some of the greatest living actors.
I've never seen a film that touches on themes like this in this film in this way before. Steve Zallian adapts the book I Heard You Paint Houses by Charles Brandt. This source material says everything. In turn, everything was on the page for Scorsese to craft a retrospective tale of real men. They deal with real issues that affected the country, their families, their friends, and thousands of other people. This film deals with aging, loyalty, and friendship to an extent that has never been done before.
Scorsese has dealt with the genre of gangster films in so many different ways during his career, but The Irishman is on a whole new level. The subtle way he deals with violence is masterful. The grace in which he deals with aging is only able to be done by someone of his age and stature. The Irishman is like an amalgamation of Goodfellas and Silence. He dealt with a de-aging technology that has been previously used very sparingly in a few MCU films. It's mostly effective and becomes nearly unnoticeable after about fifteen minutes.
Additionally, despite the film’s three-and-a-half-hour length, it goes by so quickly. That takes a master filmmaker who can make you not realize how long the film is. The Irishman is a masterpiece of filmmaking in every sense of the word. It is the culmination of so many great people's careers. That includes Thelma Shoonmaker, who does a phenomenal job editing this film. This is easily the best film of the year and deserves many Academy Awards.
Scorsese has etched his way into the annals of film lore with his filmography. He helped create the gangster genre with Mean Streets, Goodfellas, Casino, and The Departed and shepherded some of the greatest actors of all time with Robert De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio, Joe Pesci, and Harvey Keitel. He made some of the greatest films of all time and experimented with new technologies. His work as a preserver of film is also commendable, as he created a group to help save old and forgotten films. Martin Scorsese is a legend and modern auteur in every way!
The Irishman is now playing in theaters and hits Netflix on November 27.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Fred Rogers was and still is an icon to many who grew up watching his show on PBS as a child. He saw the good in every one and inspired so many to be better than they were. On his show, he discussed divorce, racism and war — subjects thought to be taboo around children. Nothing was off limits to him, as he brought these topics and many more up as often and as subtle and compassionate way as possible. He did many many shows during his time on the air which inspired millions of kids and adults to sing the famous song "It's A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood".
This film is about one man of the thousands that met Fred Rogers during the tenure of his show. Matthew Rhys (The Americans) portrays Lloyd Vogel, a writer for the magazine Esquire. He is tasked to write an exposé on Mr. Rogers. In the process he gets more than he bargained for. Mr. Rogers, played by Tom Hanks, turns the tables on him. If ever there was someone to embody Fred Rogers more than Hanks, other than Rogers himself, it would be shocking. He is perfectly cast as this beacon of hope and happiness. Hanks will surely garner some Oscar consideration for Best Supporting Actor for this incredible turn. The facial ticks and the movements are spot on, as well as his piano playing and singing. Hanks truly is the total package as Mister Rogers.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is based on Fred Rogers real life friendship with journalist Tom Junod. This is more of the Rhys character's story than Fred Rogers's. His family situation is nothing to shake a stick at. Anyone can relate to the difficulties of marriage, fatherhood, stress at work and parents we wished we didn't have. I for one sure as hell can. This story was like looking in a mirror at my own relationship with my father: how I still don't forgive him for what he did to my family when I was a child. It hit me over the head like a ton of bricks, and then of course I started turning into him, making me very mad at myself. Fred Rogers helps us see the best in ourselves and in others. It was a very emotional scene when Vogel realized he had it all wrong. Mr. Rogers has that effect on people, and that is what makes this film so effective.
Marielle Heller is coming off of a big hit with last year's Can You Ever Forgive Me? starring Melissa McCarthy in her Academy Award-nominated role. Setting films in a past decade seems to be her thing, her last two films set in the 80's and her directorial debut in the 70's. These films aren't your typical period piece films, but she knows how to make them work around the context of the script and story she's telling. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is shot in the style of the TV show, but with very good editing. Yet she also switches back and forth to a more modern style, creating a sense of contrast within the film. That is one of the most fascinating things about this movie: the style can sometimes change mid-scene, but it all works in the end.
Leave it to Mr. Rogers to make audiences cry again this year like they did last year for Won't You Be My Neighbor?, the biographical documentary on the entertainer. Although film got snubbed at the Academy Awards last year, the chances of the Academy showing no love for Mister Rogers again is slim. Tom Hanks is the best shot at Oscar gold this film has. With any justice he will get that Best Supporting Actor nom he deserves. Matthew Rhys may sneak into the Best Actor race as well, and a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination wouldn't be out of the question either.
This film is a love letter to Fred Rogers and his TV show, but it's also a tale loss and enlightenment. So many lives have been affected by this wonderful man, and this is the story of just one of them. Maybe by watching this film you might be affected as I was. This is a deeply profound film in more ways than one.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood opens in theaters on November 22.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Although movies about racing aren't particularly common in the sports film genre, there have been two in 2019: The Art of Racing in the Rain and Ford v Ferrari. The latter, having A-List stars and a big time director in James Mangold, Ford v Ferrari is more than just a movie about racing — it's a time capsule about this one moment in American sports history. And a damn good one at that.
Matt Damon portrays Carrol Shelby, race car driver turned race car designer and manufacturer. He is entrusted by Henry Ford II and Lee Iacocca to build a race car that can win the 24 Hours of LeMans. He enlists the best driver he knows to help him, Ken Miles, who is portrayed in the film by Christian Bale.
James Mangold has directed some great films in the past, including Logan and Walk the Line, but making this film might be his biggest accomplishment yet. The racing scenes are arguably the best in any racing movie ever, rivaling those in Ron Howard's film Rush. The placement of the camera in these scenes was astounding. He was able to show the cars breaking and shifting gears during the races, making the scenes feel all the more authentic. Having all these cars from that time period also lent a more realistic feel to the film.
Matt Damon and Christian Bale are two of the finest actors of their generation. They both give nuanced and relatable performances. Damon uses a southern accent, which seemed like it had the potential to be distracting. Bale has a lot of dialogue using his own cockney accent. However, these accents don't hide two of the best performances of the year — they accentuate them. This film owes itself to their great work
In addition Damon and Bale, Mangold assembled a great cast of actors to round out the cast. Among them are Jon Bernthal as the aforementioned Lee Iacocca, Josh Lucas as Leo Beebe, and Caitriona Balfe and Noah Jupe as Mollie Miles and Peter Miles. However, the best supporting actor in the film is Tracy Letts, who plays Henry Ford II. He gives a real solid performance. Letts is overdue for an Academy Award nomination, but his performance is good enough to even win.
Audiences may not know anything about this story heading into the film, but they will be floored by the racing scenes unlike any other that have been seen before and the top-notch performances. Mangold captured the time period perfectly, allowing everything came together to make Ford v Ferrari a very solid film about this one small moment in time.
Ford v Ferrari opens in theaters on November 15.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Historical biopics can be hit and miss. Free State of Jones and Birth of a Nation are both lackluster and 12 Years a Slave is great. Harriet, on the other hand, is right smack in the middle. It’s not bad, but it isn’t great either. Harriet Tubman is portrayed by Cynthia Erivo who broke out last year with turns in two critically acclaimed films, Widows and Bad Times at the El Royale.
Tubman is a slave for the Brodess family in Maryland in the year 1850. She seeks to leave and raise a family with her husband John (Zachary Mamoh). When she is denied her leave, she asks God to strike down her master. Her wish is granted, but this leads to Gideon Brodess (Joe Alwyn) — the son of the master — to sell her to the highest bidder, allowing her to break her away from her family. When news gets around that she's for sale, she decides she would rather "live free or die,” so she makes a run for it and heads for free Pennsylvania.
Director Kasi Lemmons has rounded up a great cast for Harriet. Along with Cynthia Erivo as Tubman, she cast fellow Tony Award winner Laslie Odom Jr. as William Sill, a great friend to Tubman. Odom Jr. had a realness about him. He had to look the part of successful businessman so he could hide his real intentions from his clients. Janelle Monae portrays Marie Buchanan, another friend and confidant to Tubman. Erivo is a seasoned pro on the stage, but Harriet shows that she is just as comfortable behind the camera. She owns this role as Tubman. The emotion exudes out of her. She was the right choice to lead this film by all means.
Lemmons is prominently known as an actress, her most popular roles being in 1991's Silence of the Lambs and 1992's Candyman. In 1997, she got the directing bug and subsequently directed Eve's Bayou starring Samuel L. Jackson. This is the first movie that she has directed since 2013's Black Nativity. Her films bring light to African-American actors and stories to which they can relate, Harriet included. This story also has a great message she needed to get out — a message of perseverance and courage.
As far as biopics go, Harriet is a good one, just not a great one. With serviceable performances from Cynthia Erivo and others, this story mostly known from history books doesn't have a lot of twists and turns, though it does have a lot of heart. If people are looking for something different in theaters, look no further than Harriet. This is a change of pace from the sequels, reboots, and re-imaginings out in theaters now. However, with all of the good choices out in theaters right now, the fickle moviegoing audience may cause this to get buried in the shuffle.
Harriet is now playing in theaters.
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