Cynthia Erivo made quite the big splash on the big screen last year with breakout performances, showing that she could kick all kinds of ass in Widows and that she has the pipes of an angel in Bad Times at the El Royale. She brings all those talents and more to director Kasi Lemmons’ biopic Harriet, and while her performance is noteworthy, the film itself is much more of a letdown with a lackluster script that doesn’t feel worthy of the big screen nor Erivo’s abilities. It’s about as straightforward and generic as biopics come, which is a shame because Harriet Tubman was everything but that.
Born into slavery, Harriet Tubman (Erivo) dreamed of freedom and rather than wait for the day when it may or may not arrive, she took her fate into her own hands and escaped to the North despite all the dangers. Not content with just being free, however, Harriet decides that she’s going to take it upon herself to travel back to the South and free as many of her fellow slaves as she can. With each trip back South her notoriety increases, and so does her chances of being caught. It’s a risk she’s willing to take, all in the name of freedom.
Harriet Tubman was a fascinating woman and the film does it’s best to show that, but the script is so drab and forced that it feels like a made-for-TV film. Nearly everything, from the cheesy dialogue sometimes to the awkward camera angles and mismatched music doesn’t quite fit together. Erivo does her best in the role and she absolutely nails her performance despite the troubles of the script. Had it not been for her I feel the film would have been unwatchable. It’s just too all over the place.
It’s been documented that Harriet Tubman saw visions of God throughout her life, but Harriet takes that to the extreme, making it like she has this superpower of premonition where she can go into this trance-like state and see the future so she can know what areas to avoid or what traps have been laid ahead for her. It’s strange because I feel it takes away from what Tubman actually accomplished very much in her own right. She was smart and skilled and knew exactly what kind of danger she was going through with each trip to the South. She didn’t need any “power” to be super. She just was.
The film is also just over two hours long, and you feel every minute of it as it can get repetitive as Harriet makes trip after trip to free more people. Despite Cynthia Erivo’s wonderful performance, I feel like you’re better off just reading about Harriet Tubman. What she accomplished is bigger than any film, or at least Harriet unfortunately.