The Birth of a Nation

(2016)

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Title:
The Birth of a Nation
Release Date:
9th September 2016
Runtime:
117 min
MPAA Rating:
R
Genres:
Directors:
Nate Parker
Writers:
Nate Parker
Languages:
N/A
Stream Quality:
1080p / 720p / 480p

Storyline

Set against the antebellum South, THE BIRTH OF A NATION follows Nat Turner (Nate Parker), a literate slave and preacher, whose financially strained owner, Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer), accepts an offer to use Nat's preaching to subdue unruly slaves. As he witnesses countless atrocities - against himself and his fellow slaves - Nat orchestrates an uprising in the hopes of leading his people to freedom.

Ratings

Rotten Tomatoes Critics - Certified Fresh 78%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience 74%
IMDb Rating 5.5

Casts

Armie Hammer as Samuel Turner
Jackie Earle Haley as Raymond Cobb
Mark Boone Junior as Reverend Zalthall
Nate Parker as Nat Turner
Penelope Ann Miller as Elizabeth Turner

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by Marty McFly 9th October, 2016

A Mediocre Semi-Accurate Historical Film

I typically love historical films. Having a bachelors degree in history and an enormous home library consisting of many historical books from all periods in American and World history, I have a fond knack for this particular subject. Unfortunately 2016's "Birth of A Nation" mostly disappoints. This film feels more like a made for TV movie than a big budget film. The dialogue felt contrived and the movie was plagued with too many cliches. The film also ignores the darker side of the slave rebellion, in which women and children became innocent victims, along with the plantation owners. Birth of a Nation basically paints Nat Turner has an unquestionable hero, yet the real Nat Turner - if you've ever read any history - probably wouldn't be considered as a hero by the vast majority of modern people, considering some of his questionable actions during the rebellion that left women and children slaughtered. There wasn't really much of an impact on me by the end of the film, and I think the film mostly fails to give the viewer a clear or unique message. In the end, the film mostly feels like a waste of resources. Historical films should be better than this!

Reviewed by FilmPhanatic88 7th October, 2016

Over-hyped much?

The Birth of Nation tells the story of Nat Turner as he treks through his life of brutality and slavery at the hands of brutal plantation owners in 19th century Southern America only to lead a slave rebellion to exact revenge on his oppressors. First off, this film is shrouded in controversy and hype while masking itself with the notion that this is an important film. In the hands of a more capable director, The Birth of a Nation could have been a truly mesmerizing film but Nate Parker's overly ambitious and slightly egotistical vision is hard to swallow for all the wrong reasons. The film starts with young Nat Turner playing with the son of his slave master, Samuel. Nat is a special boy as he learns to read and write at a young age with the help of his slave owner Elizabeth Turner (Penelope Ann Miller). From that point on, we see Nat Turner (Nate Parker) and Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer) as adults. The two are friends but Nat must still walk on egg shells due to his status as a slave. The story progresses very slowly, showing Samuel in a financial bind and Nat living a comfortable life (with all things considering) with his wife Cherry. Samuel eventually exploits Nat as a preacher to the slaves and even makes money off of him as a preacher of gospel in order to keep the slaves docile and calm. As he is carted off to multiple plantations for sermons, he sees the horrors of slavery first-hand and decides, after a brutal (fictious) rape on Cherry, to rebel and cause an uprising. The film is a sad one. It is sad because of slavery, because of the brutality, yes...but the saddest part of The Birth of a Nation is the idea of what could have been. The film is a vicious display of violence and brutality with a one-sided and very historically inaccurate story. While many people are not privy to Nat Turner's rebellion, it still does not excuse the poorly constructed storyline based around the idea of a rape and religious visions in order to fuel the Nat Turner character's motives as if Parker was not confident enough in telling the true life story and the real reasons behind why Turner rebelled. Much like this year's Free State of Jones, The Birth of a Nation screenplay is haphazard and very amateur in its execution. The women characters are mere pawns that have little to no dialog and the dialog they are given is so unsubstantial that it lessens the impacts of their actions...especially when the Cherry character's rape is such an integral part to Parker's telling of the story. The acting is powerful at times and Parker gives a good performance but it is a performance that you can't take seriously at moments. He is an actor that can have you tear up in one scene and unintentionally laugh at another whether it is because of a line delivery or some of his overly dramatic scowls. Gabrielle Union, who plays Esther, the muted rape victim is also amazing in her role. Armie Hammer also shows glimpses of a great performance especially because his character had a much more interesting sub-plot to delve into and the film really never gave it a second thought outside of a single scene scored to overtly dramatic music. The filmmaking is the downfall here. The Birth of a Nation is painfully slow in its first hour and very chaotic in its second. It reeks of an inexperienced filmmaker and left me genuinely surprised especially because of the hype that we've heard about this film. Honestly, I've seen History Channel specials with better productions. The blue tint is overbearing, the actual camera work is too close and honed in on its subjects, the sound is flat and the editing is so erratic that it's very hard to keep track of what's going on. Overall, The Birth of a Nation is less 12 Years a Slave and more Free State of Jones. It may be an important story but it is far from an important film.

Reviewed by ofumalow 4th October, 2016

A disappointment

I strongly disapprove of the fact that this movie has gotten a lot of IMDb thumbs-down from people who most likely haven't seen it, but just disapprove of a movie about slavery, as well as one whose director has a problematic past. However, that's not what I'm writing about here. I DID see the film (at a film festival), and my disappointment is based on the movie itself, not politics or anything else external. "The Birth of a Nation" is about a very important chapter in US history, yet it sanitizes that history to a ridiculous degree. I think most non-blatant-racists can agree that an uprising amongst slaves is a thing that inherently generates empathy. Yet this movie apparently doesn't agree--it needs to sanitize the mental health of Nat Turner (who was on record as saying God directly told him what to do from an early age) as well as pretend women & children weren't chilled in the Turner uprising. I'm not saying these things were justifiable. What I'm saying is that they're part of a complex historical record, and shouldn't have been left out of a movie that purports to tell the "truth." That would be fine if "Birth" were one of many Nat Turner movies out there, but it's the only one most people are likely to see. It's also a pandering, middle-of-the-road "inspirational" movie, so much less complex a take on slavery than the recent "12 Years a Slave." While that movie was a work of art, this is more like a TV movie in style and content. I just wasn't impressed by it. I wish somebody would make great Nat Turner movie. This isn't it. And sorry, a bad populist telling of the tale isn't better than no telling.

Reviewed by trublu215 17th July, 2016

A film that wallows in the shadow of it's story and never really escapes it.

Nate Parker's stirring portrayal of Nat Turner's rebellion is a film that tries extremely hard to be something more than what it is. This is not the Oscar contender you read it to be, this is not some revelation in the vein of Roots, this is just another slavery film. Nate Parker's film sheds no new light on the brutality of slavery and does his absolute best to make sure you despise the white villains in this as anyone should as they are portrayed with much relish from the actors especially Jackie Earle Haley's menacing slave owner that serves as the main villain of the film. The problems that The Birth of a Nation has are ones that exist in it's director's overbearing ego and overwhelming goal to bring something powerful to the table. Parker succeeds haphazardly unfortunately. The Birth of a Nation tells the story of Nat Turner, a preacher turned rebellion leader as he fights racism in the south with a violent and brutal fist. The film is powerful and Jackie Earle Haley and Gabrielle Union are absolute gems in this film, with Union giving the best performance of her career and Nate Parker giving...well, a performance. The problems here lie with the film itself. The story plays like a more realistic version of Django Unchained, even lifting some inspiration from that film a little too heavily for the scenes in which the slaves are beaten and abused. However, the film also delves into the religious aspects of Turner so heavy handedly that it borders along the fine line of a parody more often than not. The other film that Parker must have had playing on his tablet while directing some scenes is Braveheart because, the last battle in particular, is riddled with countless homages to that film that border plagiarism. Between the way Parker conveys his violence and the way he immortalizes Nat Turner by making him more of a saint than he ought to be, the film gradually feels less and less genuine as the running time winds down. That was my biggest gripe with the film honestly. Nate Parker failed to convey anything human about Nat Turner outside of him witnessing the brutalization that went on around him. There is something divine in the way Parker conveys Turner and it is just too much for a film that is steeped in this much history and realism. It fails to accurately portray to rebellion as it happened. There are very few mentions of what the rebellion actually did in reality as opposed to what it did in the film. While I am not saying that Turner's Rebellion was without cause, the film dilutes the harsh realities of what Turner's Rebellion did. In a sense, I felt it was a bit disrespectful to the victims of his Rebellion both black and white. With that being said, this is a film and not a documentary, so there is some room for some creative liberties, within reason. However, this does stand as Nate Parker's first directorial effort and, for a first film, it is a damn fine effort that should lead to more work as a director. Despite this fact, it still is nowhere near enough to sustain this as a film worthy of accolades and praise. Quite frankly, there is a lot wrong with the film. The pacing is either mind-numbingly slow or so quickly cut and erratic that you can barely grasp what is going on. Also, the extreme close shots are so constant and abundant that it is just another contributing factor to it feeling very incoherent. The story is bland and has been done before and done better despite this being Nat Turner's first on-screen portrayal, the story has inspired many films that have come out in recent years such as the previously mentioned Django Unchained. The sound design, at least on the Sundance version that I saw, was very flat and felt a bit too post-production sounding. Despite all this, I can't fully write this film off. There are some truly powerful performances in the film and some well done battle sequences to enjoy but other than that, this is an average film.

Reviewed by Erik 28th January, 2016

Nate Parker's Ambitious Debut Chained to Conventionality

Freshman Director Nate Parker creates a picture that is seemingly inspired by Best Picture winners such as Braveheart, Schindlers List and 12 Years of Slave, but produces a conventionally formulaic film lacking aesthetic cohesion, pacing, and subtlety. The Birth of a Nation (2016) isn't a remake or reboot of D.W. Griffith's controversial and widely regarded groundbreaking masterpiece, but is instead Nate Parker's seemingly ambitious directorial debut-- a true story revenge tale about Nate Turner, an African American slave, referred to as "Prophet" by his followers, who led a Slave rebellion comprised of slaves and free blacks in Virginia in 1831, approximately 33 years before the Congressional passage of the 13th amendment and abolishment of slavery in all States. After a series of religious visions and certain atmospheric conditions, Nate Turner believed he was tasked by God to begin an uprising, his goal was to awaken the attitudes of whites to the reality of the inherent brutality in slave-holding and to spread terror and alarm amongst whites-- the rebellion did not discriminate by age or sex, until it was determined that the rebellion had achieved sufficient numbers. Turner certainly accomplished that, but one could say in vain. The rebellion left around 60 dead white's- including many defenseless women and children-- and resulted in the state executing 56 blacks suspected of having been involved in the uprising. And unfortunately in the hysteria of aroused fears and anger in the days after the revolt, white militias and mobs killed an estimated 200 blacks, many of whom had nothing to do with the rebellion. The fear caused by Nat Turner's insurrection and the concerns raised in the emancipation debates that followed resulted in politicians and writers responding by defining slavery as a "positive good". Across Virginia and other southern states, state legislators passed new laws to control slaves and free blacks. They prohibited education of slaves and free blacks, restricted the rights of assembly for free blacks, withdrew their right to bear arms and voting, and required white ministers to be present at all black worship services. So one could definitely say the revolt was ultimately an utter failure. The story about Nate Turner has been something of a passion project for Freshman director Nate Parker, who-- for all intents and purposes-- had full creative authority on this production as the writer, director, producer and lead actor. In what is the most violent slave revolt in U.S history it definitely is a story worth telling on screen, but one better told accurately; and as far as violence is concerned Parker delivers a solid account in its depiction. But Parker certainly cherry picks his character development aspects and plays down Nate Turner's religious zeal and tries to show the rebellion as a success and skips showing us the post revolt brutality instead strangely delegating that duty to the end credits. The washed out aesthetic to the cinematography looks cheap, and is accompanied by a soaring score that oftentimes is overbearing. Despite the beautiful Georgia landscapes and a few great shots, Elliot Davis mostly delivers conventional cinematography, instead of showing the dramatic material in a visually arresting way, wasting great opportunities to be a character in and of itself. The dialogue is a bit cheesy and unconvincing. This includes a routine sentimentalism that keeps the movie grounded in a series of conventional beats. Turner's stump speech feels especially heavy-handed. The weakest aspect is the pacing. Unfortunately there's a conventionality to the somewhat mediocre and predictable storytelling that remains monotonous throughout. Parker plays it a bit too safe, and wastes many opportunities to build narrative momentum. Aside from Nate Turner the characters just feel a bit thin and underdeveloped and to some extent unbelievable. Parker fails to sell us on Turner's visions. The best aspect of this film is Nate Parker's solid performance but the rest of the cast delivers unmemorable performances with most filling stock roles. All in all the delivery of the film seems a bit too heavy handed to seriously be considered a great film. It's like The Patriot or The Alamo more than Braveheart or Schindler's list in that sense. Nate Parker takes a great story but fails to deliver a memorable picture by using conventional storytelling methods in a bid to drive home an agenda that'll launch a debate instead of delivering a masterpiece to be remembered for decades. This film could have really been something amazing had a better filmmaker (less afraid to take risks) taken the reigns.