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Film FestivalsMovie ReviewsTIFF 2019: Harriet Review

Keith NoakesSeptember 12, 201981/100
Starring
Cynthia Erivo, Joe Alwyn, Leslie Odom Jr.
Writers
Gregory Allen Howard, Kasi Lemmons
Director
Kasi Lemmons
Rating
n/a
Running Time
125 minutes
Release Date
November 1st, 2019
Overall Score
Rating Summary
Harriet is a great and grounded albeit paint-by-numbers biopic elevated by a spectacular award-worthy lead performance from Cynthia Erivo.

This will be one of many reviews during this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, to keep up with our latest coverage, click here.

It is simply amazing that a film based on the life of famed abolitionist Harriet Tubman has not been made until now. The story of Tubman may have taken place over 100 years ago but it is more timely than ever as what she stood for is still very important today. Harriet dramatizes merely a small piece of what was an impressive life for the political activist though the film did about it in an arguably derivative, paint-by-numbers kind of way. However, this did not make it any less powerful to watch, just not as surprising which isn’t necessarily the worst thing.

Harriet follows Tubman (Erivo), a slave (who gave herself the name Harriet Tubman later on) who desperately wanted to free, much to the behest of her owners. Eventually, enough would be enough for her, leading her to risk her life by fleeing hundreds of miles to safety in Philadelphia. This journey proved to be an arduous one, braving the rough countryside and elements while evading those who wished to do her harm. Now it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that she survived, however, she certainly did not stop freeing slaves after herself despite the many dangers this presented. As her determination grew, so did her legend and the abolitionist movement.

Harriet could easily have depicted Tubman as the superhero she was but instead made the better choice of depicting her as a grounded human being. Her arc over the course of the film was so compelling to watch because of Erivo’s spectacular performance as Tubman. She truly was a driving force, breathing life into what would otherwise be an okay biopic. While everyone else was solid across the board, including Alwyn as Giden Brodess, Tubman’s owner, and Odom Jr. as William Still, a conductor of the underground railroad and one of Tubman’s strongest allies. Ultimately, this was Erivo’s film and may very well make her a strong contender come awards season.

In the end, Harriet may not be particularly new in terms of biopics but is well-worth watching for Cynthia Erivo’s powerful performance alone.

*still courtesy of Focus Features*


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