Quick Reviews: 'Harriet', 'Bombshell' | Cynthia Erivo, Kasi Lemmons, Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman
Harriet turned out to be another film that told me a story I had never heard before. Directed and co-written by Kasi Lemmons, it’s a biopic about Harriet Tubman, an abolitionist who lived during the age of American slavery in the 19th century. The movie follows her escape from slavery as well as saving others later from it and it’s told gracefully, however it never quite blossoms.
There are some instances of interpolating gospel music that serve almost like a palette cleanser to the heaviness of the script. It’s refreshing to see that happen in a biopic that’s not a musical biopic and I wish there was more of it—more about this further down. Cynthia Erivo who plays Harriet has a stunning voice so whenever she sings, you can feel that it’s meaningful to the emotional weight this story carries. Erivo’s acting is a highlight as well, her commitment to the role was clear to see right from the first scene. Leslie Odom Jr. (William Still) also stands out from the supporting cast, making you feel like there was possibly an interesting side-plot involving him that just didn’t get told.
What I also meant by wishing for more gospel is that it is really the only thing in the film that breaks the story here and there. Harriet has a steady flatline for the whole time so when telling this story in a movie form, there is a lack of ”x-factor” of any kind. The music fades out completely until the end credits when even that could’ve been used as a building element to mirror the growing voice Harriet herself gets through her bravery. The final third is unfortunately the worst example of this all culminating as it’s just way too boring considering that the main character is so heroic.
Smileys: Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr.
Hopefully this isn’t the last time that Harriet’s story gets told.
You’re playing a dangerous game with your film’s story when you’re writing about real life events but there’s nothing to base it on, like a biography or a memoir. Director Jay Roach's Bombshell is trying to thread that needle as best as it can, telling about the sexual harassment that happened at Fox News and by its CEO. In retrospect it did apparently get many of the details quite right and there’s plenty of solid acting to back it in this one, although there is a lot of inconsistency in how it’s presented.
Margot Robbie is on absolute fire as Kayla Pospisil, the new girl in the building who is supposed to be a combination of multiple real life women. Her scenes are a rollercoaster ride from first to last, shifting from the peppy and confident newcomer to humiliated and broken victim of a power maniac. Charlize Theron’s transformation to resemble Megyn Kelly is terrifyingly accurate, flexing her action muscles with intense vocal delivery and speech patterns. Casting is top notch, John Lithgow (as Roger Ailes), Malcolm McDowell (Robert Murdoch), Kate McKinnon (Jess Carr) and Brigette Lundy-Paine (Julia Clarke) being the standouts. Everything mentioned just now owes a lot to the mind-blowing work from the makeup department which is the best around anywhere currently.
Bombshell struggles through its whole runtime with tone, ending up never finding a square for the square hole. It plays around with both mockumentary and documentary techniques in the beginning, then weirdly trying an old-school sitcom vibe and closing with pure biographical drama elements. It comes off as messy directing in the sense that it doesn’t utilise the actors enough (must point out that in technical terms there’s nothing done wrong). The script also loses Nicole Kidman (Gretchen Carlson) in the process by offering her nothing to work with in the end and leaving the Kayla/Jess dynamic lingering after building it up. You can’t help but feel like it didn’t really commit a hundred percent for the material.
Smileys: Makeup, casting, Margot Robbie
Frowneys: Tone, characterisation
Doesn’t end up blowing up the material to pieces but it also doesn’t hold a pearl inside.