Be Free or Die
Following the journey of real-life hero Harriet Tubman (Cynthia Erivo), “Harriet” begins with her still a slave on a plantation in Maryland. Her husband (Zachary Momoh) and father (Clarke Peters) live down the road as a free man, while her mother and siblings live on the plantation. Fed-up with her situation, Harriet takes the trail to freedom, as she evades capture from her owner’s son (Joe Alwyn) and slave catchers. Encountering rugged terrain, dangerous conditions, and hostiles all around, Harriet’s journey is grueling and uplifting. As she finally reaches Philadelphia, William Still (Leslie Odom Jr.) sets her up with a freedom papers, a job, and a living establishment, run by Marie Buchanon (Janelle Monáe). Enjoying her new life and name, she is yearning to bring her family to safety. Against Still’s advice, she successfully frees her younger family members and is set on freeing slaves all over the country. With her success rate too difficult to ignore, Still introduces her to a secret society he’s involved with that focuses on the freeing of slaves: The Underground Railroad.
While Harriet Tubman is a universally-renown and trailblazing historical figure, I was incredibly shocked with how much I still learned from “Harriet”. On more than one occasion, I found myself thinking “Oh, I never knew that” as we saw her life unfold across the screen. I actually questioned by ignorance on the drive home afterwards. However, “Harriet” will serve as an excellent learning device in classrooms across the Globe once it hits home video! Stealing and commanding the film, Cynthia Erivo is a true revelation as the famous abolitionist. Her performance is raw and entrancing, a genuine portrayal that is authentic and certain to keep her busy throughout this awards season! She is far and away the best aspect of “Harriet”! The film’s supporting cast does a great job bringing the authenticity and making the time period seem all the more real.
While the film follows Harriet Tubman, it briefly explores her time as a slave and other slaves as well. I was caught off-guard with how tame the scenes involving the ugly act were. Those scenes lacked showing the harshness and brutality those individuals faced and endured; it seemed an odd choice. As “Django Unchained” and “12 Years a Slave” better-showed, we should all be disgusted and appalled that our Country was involved in the despicable act. Annoyingly, the film falls into the typical biographical pitfall of needing the “cheering” scene and other by-the-book story mechanisms; these scenes seemed both unnecessary and ridiculous. I can almost guarantee that sequence never happened, or at least certainly not in that manner. With a running time of 125 minutes, the film never lulls as we watch Erivo command the screen.
Aside from the by-the-bookness, “Harriet” succeeds in delivering a worthy biographical film about one of the most important women in our Nation’s history. Also, we now officially have a Best Original Song front-runner, as Cynthia Erivo’s “Stand Up” is sure to hit you emotionally!
HARRIET is rated PG-13 for thematic content throughout, violent material and language including racial epithets, in theaters NOVEMBER 1ST!