As a sincere tribute to a pivotal figure in American history, “Harriet” is almost every bit of the movie that this courageous woman deserved. I was inclined to call it one of my biggest surprises of 2019, but even as I sit here to talk about it, I’m conflicted about what I saw. The film is very vast, bold and covered in grandeur all around in both style and substance never sacrificing one element for the other and embracing them both, the directing is confidently planned out albeit to a fault, cinematography is gorgeous to look at, the costumes and set design are astonishing, there were multiple feel-good if not badassery moments that made you feel compelled to stand up and cheer, the acting was phenomenal with the standout being Cynthia Erivo, for her portrayal brought us an wholesome earnest interpretation of the famous slave-turned-abolitionist and the film taking the structure of a action-adventure “origin story” movie, identical in structure to one of the MCU films, is fitting and appropriate at the end of the day, even if it leaves behind the less-told parts of her life for a sequel that will likely never be.
So the fact that this film never got made until NOW does baffle me but what baffles me more was how many problems I ran into. The musical score can be a distracting cause for emotional manipulation, the injected subplots are inflated to several times their necessary size, their conventions behind the antagonist’s arc feels more and more unnecessary despite it being one of the driving forces of the story and I have to admit the narrative structure the film used felt way too familiar. When it comes to historical figures, Harriet Tubman is one of the most talked about in my history classes and her story is marked as some of the stuff legend so why, at the end of the day, was I expecting a lot more than what I got? The formulaic approach this film takes to give the story a backbone to move along follows a beat-by-beat structure in films I’ve seen one too many times and as a result, what could’ve been an excellent biopic is resorted to just being good.
But take nothing away from what I’ve seen here: it’s well researched, well crafted, well-acted and I had fun watching this biopic and relearning about a true American hero.