Time: 125 Minutes
Cynthia Erivo as Araminta “Minty” Ross/Harriet Tubman
Leslie Odom Jr. as William Still
Joe Alwyn as Gideon Brodess
Janelle Monáe as Marie Buchanon
Creator: Kasi Lemmons
From her escape from slavery through the dangerous missions she led to liberate hundreds of slaves through the Underground Railroad, the story of heroic abolitionist Harriet Tubman (Cynthia Erivo) is told.
I heard about Harriet because of the awards attention it was receiving, mainly for Cynthia Erivo’s performance. Although I didn’t know that much about her, I heard about how Harriet Tubman was a truly significant historical figure, so I was at least interested in the movie for that, even if it looked like awards bait. While the movie unfortunately isn’t as great as it should’ve been, it was alright and better than I thought it would be.
Now I can’t speak as to the accuracy of the movie to real life events. I did a brief Google search and clicked on a few articles, and according to what I found, much of what’s in the movie is accurate, however there’s a lot more that the film didn’t cover. Parts of the movie feel very formulaic and a little cliched. Even if these events played in real life like they did here, they didn’t really make it feel fresh or genuine. It also feels a little rushed, while also feeling like there’s a number of things that the movie didn’t cover. From the looks of things, maybe a mini series would’ve been better for the story, but just judging it as being done as one movie, some of the plot and storytelling choices were a little odd. With that said, as someone who knew nothing about Harriet Tubman, I was somewhat interested in the movie from beginning to end in its roughly 2 hour long runtime, just not as much as I hoped I would.
Cynthia Erivo is the star of the show as Harriet Tubman, and she is really good. I liked her work in 2018 with both Bad Times at the El Royale and Widows, and once again she has shown herself to be a great actress. If there’s a reason to watch this movie, it’s for her performance. The rest of the cast are fine, there wasn’t quite a weak link, but most of them weren’t anything special and stood out either. Out of the supporting cast, Janelle Monae stood out the most in a minor role, playing a character who was created for the movie and didn’t exist in real life.
The direction of Harriet by Kasi Lemmons was decent. While the movie can look really good at some points (especially with some of the locations), some of the way it was shot looks like a tv movie. The costumes and productions design are good enough and fit the time period and setting. Something that occurs often in the movie is that there are some visions that Harriet has. Now to be fair to this movie, these apparently happened in real life, but the way it’s shot and edited made it come across a little silly in the film (again, like a tv movie).
Harriet is an okay movie but unfortunately it doesn’t rise above that level, especially disappointing for a movie about such a significant figure in history. The direction is fine, the writing is mostly okay, the supporting cast is good enough, but there’s not a lot in the movie that’s better than that. The exception is Cynthia Erivo’s lead performance which was good, and really was the only reason to see the movie. Even then though, I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s a an absolute must see just for her work alone, as good as it was. I guess if you’re committed to watching every Oscar nominated performance, or if you’ve got 2 hours to spend, then it might be worth checking out if you’re curious about it.