(If you’re curious, my review process. It’s also pasted at the end of this post. I don’t believe in Rotten Tomatoes. I just believe in me.)
(***all-purpose SPOILER ALERT*** there may be some in this review)
SW SCORE: 35
3.5 out of 5 🐙
This is probably the only time in my reviewing life that I will be able to do something like this so here goes:
Disclaimer: I was an extra on this movie. It was totally fun to be on a real movie set. The catering was really good. The crew were pretty friendly. And it was just cool for a lifelong movie nut like me to see how the sausage was made. They also dressed me up in olde- timey clothes so that was fun, too. My role was that of a “slave catcher”. This is pretty funny since I’m a latinX person but I get it, my beard is awesome and I’m a light-skinned dude so I pass. I was in the same scene as the featured photo of this blog post. Except I was in the group of dudes chasing the huge group of slaves. I didn’t make it on screen in the theatrical cut and I doubt I would in any kind of movie extras they would have in the DVD. But I am tempted to buy it just to check. The main reason I didn’t make the big screen is that we slave catchers didn’t follow directions properly didn’t run in a direct straight line after the slaves. We, as a group, ran in a weird curve so they had to close in on the center mass of the slave catchers for a decent shot to use in the movie. I’m not gonna lie. I was bummed. I wanted to be on screen. But what are you gonna do?
OK, on to the review.
I thought it was good but nothing memorable. I really don’t see why Cynthia Erivo got a nomination for Best Actress. I know that sounds like a dickhead thing to say but I didn’t find her performance impressive. It felt one note to me. She wasn’t alone. Most of the acting was pretty wooden and hardly passionate. The direction and writing weren’t stellar either. The movie felt poorly and awkwardly paced. Many of the scenes contributed nothing to the narrative of the movie and should have been cut. Even some of the germane scenes felt like cliche drama movie beats.
I did like some things. Henry Hunter Hall brought some of the only levity and charm to the acting on display in this film. He played a man initially in league with the slave catchers. He had the lion’s share of the laugh lines (“Most people should definitely not trust me.”) and his charisma outshone most of his colleagues. I thought the costume work solid. I liked that there were black people who were traitors and worked with the slave catchers. I enjoyed the black characters who switched allegiance from the slave catchers to join Harriet. I enjoyed these things because it didn’t present the blacks and whites in this movie as two-dimensional bad and good guys. Make no mistake, I am in now way intimating that the south was in any way justified in its embrace of this abominable institution. But it is fair to include that not every black person was a hero like Harriet. And finally, the nod to Jaws was pretty funny: “We’re gonna need a bigger cart.”
I appreciated the allegories to present day immigration policies of the Trump administration were there for anyone to see: the fugitive slave act was a clear shout out to the current deployment of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). I know this probably pissed some people off and I’m glad those people were pissed if they even acknowledged that blatant allegory.
I know what you’re thinking. I didn’t make it on screen, so I’m being harsh. But I promise I’m not. It’s just ok. It has a lot of problems. But I’m glad it brought the Underground Railroad to the big screen. I’m looking forward to seeing more historical episodes like this given the big screen treatment.
(1) Shark Wrighter (SW) Score: Based on a sum of 5 sub-scores (acting, directing, writing/story, effects: cinematography &/or animation &/or effects, editing) with 1 being terrible and 10 being terrific.
(2) Octopuses (0-5 🐙, with 5 being fantastic and 0 being feces)
(3) Octopuses are my unquantifiable feeling…not that SW score is scientific…but this one is even less so
(4) ++ This optional section includes any incredibly *brilliant observations that don’t fit into simple quantitative slices like the scores and octopuses *(they are likely NOT brilliant)