Keep up-to-date on your favourite artists and movies, track gig and release dates, and join in the conversation.
SEARCH RESULTS FOR
The SWITCH team has checked out their top picks from the Perth Festival - click here to check out the reviews.x
review, The Birth Of A Nation, The, Birth, Of, A, Nation, film, movie, latest movies, new movie, movie ratings, current movie reviews, latest films, recent movies, current movies, movie critics, new movie reviews, latest movie reviews, latest movies out, the latest movies, review film, latest cinema releases, Australian reviews, home entertainment, DVD, Blu-ray, Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Anjanue Ellis, Colman Domingo, Aja Naomi King, Jackie Earl Haley, Penelope Ann Miller, Nate Parker, Biography, Drama, True Story film rating

THE BIRTH OF A NATION

★★

A LACKLUSTRE HISTORY LESSON

HOME ENTERTAINMENT REVIEW
LATEST REVIEWS
By Daniel Lammin
19th March 2017

No film went through a more fascinating ascent and downfall last year than Nate Parker’s debut ‘The Birth of a Nation’. After an enormously successful premiere at Sundance, where it was proclaimed the Oscar frontrunner, the film was eventually swamped by controversy around Parker’s past involving a sexual assault charge. It was fascinating to watch the turn against both Parker and the film, and in many ways made me more intrigued to see it. Could the film stand on its own against its maker’s past, or was the eventual critical backlash a justified critique of a flawed film? ‘The Birth of a Nation’ now comes to Australia direct to DVD, so we have a chance to find out the answer for ourselves.

The film tells the story of Nat Turner (played by Parker), an educated slave and preacher on a cotton plantation in the Deep South who, in 1831, led a bloody rebellion against the slave owners of the properties in the area. It was short-lived and resulted in a bloody massacre of African Americans across the South, but Turner’s legacy is captured in Parker’s film and reinserted in our understanding of this horrific period of history.

Or at least, that’s what Parker clearly intends. The problem is, the film itself isn’t quite good or memorable enough to do that. As writer, director, producer and lead actor, the film is clearly a passion project for him and he certainly has skill as a filmmaker. There are flashes of visual boldness and storytelling, but there’s surprisingly very little that’s distinct or memorable about the film. The cinematography and editing suffer from irregular and unclear rhythms, shot choices that confuse in their lack of clear composition, and a tone that never settles into itself. This feels very much like a first feature, lacking the kind of sophistication that could have elevated the film. The screenplay is often very obvious in both dialogue and structure; the ‘Braveheart’-style hero narrative ultimately feeling tired and dull. For the most part, Turner’s circumstances have him in a state of comfort, and while his realisation of the horrific conditions those on other plantations leads to his eventual decision to revolt, this comes so late in the film that, when it does, you’ve already lost interest. It also means working through an uncomfortable "white saviour" section early in the film, where Nat is educated by his owners, a relationship which feels unintentionally uncomfortable to watch. We are occasionally offered some powerful moments of violence and cruelty, but when the shock subsides, you wonder if that was all they were intended to be in the first place.

Ultimately, there’s very little of note in ‘The Birth of a Nation’. The performances are fine if forgettable, the filmmaking is scattered and unfocused and, more importantly, its intentions are unclear. If Parker’s intention was to capture a moment and a man in history, he has done just that, but much like with Steve McQueen’s ’12 Years A Slave’ (2013), he doesn’t seem to offer much more to the conversation and our understanding of this period of history than that. It inevitably suffers in comparison to McQueen’s film, the latter being bolstered by great performances and extraordinary direction, and even though I found ’12 Years...’ likewise lacking, it left more of an impression that this lacklustre copy.

In the end, Nate Parker’s past does little to affect ‘The Birth of a Nation’ because it has problems of its own. It’s an interesting debut, but in no way noteworthy or warranting of the praise it initially received. It may have all been about timing, the premiere coming in the wake of the "Oscars So White" controversy, but the film itself could not support or maintain that initial enthusiasm, and when ‘Moonlight’ premiered - a masterpiece and one of the finest films of the decade - the fate of ‘The Birth of a Nation’ was sealed. It has all the honourable intentions, but never musters the same kind of fire and brimstone as its protagonist, instead fading from memory only minutes after it’s over.

Ultimately, there’s very little of note in ‘The Birth of a Nation’. The performances are fine if forgettable, the filmmaking is scattered and unfocused and, more importantly, its intentions are unclear.

PICTURE & SOUND
Even though ‘The Birth of a Nation’ is only presented in standard definition, it still serves the film well, as well as DVD is capable of. The 2.40:1 transfer maintains the film’s desaturated and occasionally highly colour-graded photography, with excellent sharpness and balanced colour. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track also serves the film very well, with nice balance between the sound design and score, and the dialogue. I’m sure the film would look better in high definition, but this DVD works well for what it is.

SPECIAL FEATURES
There’s only a fraction of the special features from the U.S. Blu-ray release included on this DVD, but what is included is welcome. ‘Rise Up: The Legacy of Nat Turner’ (47:15) looks at the true story behind the film. Produced by National Geographic in tandem with Parker’s film, it expands on the detail in the film and discusses further the importance of Turner’s revolt in the history of the civil rights movement. There’s also included an audio commentary with Parker and a gallery of stills from the making of the film. It would have been nice to also have the making-of documentary that was included on the Blu-ray, but ‘Rise Up’ is arguably the more important documentary to include, and the commentary does offer some insight into Parker’s directorial decisions.

FAST FACTS
RELEASE DATE: 22/03/2017
RUN TIME: 1h 54m
CAST: Nate Parker
Armie Hammer
Anjanue Ellis
Colman Domingo
Aja Naomi King
Jackie Earl Haley
Penelope Ann Miller
WRITER/DIRECTOR: Nate Parker
PRODUCERS: Nate Parker
Jason Michael Berman
Aaron L. Gilbert
Preston L. Holmes
Kevin Turen
SCORE: Henry Jackman
TOP-RATED REVIEWS
The Keep - Michael Mann's cult gothic thriller hits DVD for the first time ever!
TRENDINGWIN THE KEEPMichael Mann's cult gothic thriller hits DVD for the first time ever!
Gemini Man - Seeing double with Will Smith's action thriller
TRENDINGWIN GEMINI MANSeeing double with Will Smith's action thriller
Standing Up For Sunny - A comedy without the comedy but very sweet
TRENDINGSTANDING UP FOR SUNNYA comedy without the comedy but very sweet
God of the Piano - A tale that tickles the ivories
TRENDINGGOD OF THE PIANOA tale that tickles the ivories
Underwater - A solid subaquatic monster mash
TRENDINGUNDERWATERA solid subaquatic monster mash
Inseparable Bros - A heartwarming tale about disability and the power of friendship
TRENDINGINSEPARABLE BROSA heartwarming tale about disability and the power of friendship
1917 - Sam Mendes' personal war story
TRENDING1917Sam Mendes' personal war story
The Violin Player - Sex and strings
TRENDINGTHE VIOLIN PLAYERSex and strings
A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood - Mr Rogers: healing the world one lost soul at a time
TRENDINGA BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBOURHOODMr Rogers: healing the world one lost soul at a time
School's Out - The children know too much
TRENDINGSCHOOL'S OUTThe children know too much
True History of the Kelly Gang - A magnificent deconstruction of the great Australian antihero
TRENDINGTRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANGA magnificent deconstruction of the great Australian antihero
Perth Festival 2020 - The reviews
TRENDINGPERTH FESTIVAL 2020The reviews
In My Blood It Runs - An eye-opening tale of struggling Indigenous youth
TRENDINGIN MY BLOOD IT RUNSAn eye-opening tale of struggling Indigenous youth
Her Smell - She's off the deep end, watch as she dives in
TRENDINGHER SMELLShe's off the deep end, watch as she dives in
The Land Before Time - 30th anniversary of a breathtaking animated masterpiece
TRENDINGTHE LAND BEFORE TIME30th anniversary of a breathtaking animated masterpiece
Double Lover - Softcore pornography for cinephiles
TRENDINGDOUBLE LOVERSoftcore pornography for cinephiles
Bad Boys For Life - Whatcha gonna do when there's nothing new
TRENDINGBAD BOYS FOR LIFEWhatcha gonna do when there's nothing new
A Guide to Second Date Sex - A quintessentially awkward British romantic comedy
TRENDINGA GUIDE TO SECOND DATE SEXA quintessentially awkward British romantic comedy
The Best of 2019 - Our top five films of the year
TRENDINGTHE BEST OF 2019Our top five films of the year
Bangla - A truly beautiful mess
TRENDINGBANGLAA truly beautiful mess
© 2011 - 2020 midnightproductions
All rights reserved

Support SWITCH | Disclaimer | Contact Us