Movie Review: Harriet (2019)

Harriet: B+

Director Kasi Lemmons crafts an exquisite glimpse at American hero Harriet Tubman in the historical epic Harriet (B+) about the successful “conductor” on the Underground Railroad who escapes slavery in Maryland and helps others on an exodus to Philadelphia freedom. Cynthia Ervio is perfect in the title role and displays her character’s faith and fearlessness with a mastery rarely seen when propelled to leading actress status. Ervio gets to display her beloved character’s physical and emotional strength as well as use her vocal chops in singing which punctuates the movie and appears in rousing form over the closing credits anthem. Lemmons keeps the story propulsive and the characters intriguing, which is always a challenge with filling in the contours around real-life historical events. Leslie Odom Jr. and Janelle Monáe shine in small but exuberant roles in Tubman’s newfound freedomland, while Joe Alwyn’s one-note slaveholder character feels a shade underdeveloped, although it’s easy to dislike him. The use of “visions” when Tubman experiences spells or premonitions isn’t one hundred percent effective, but the art direction is continually surprising and authentic. The film is adventurous and illuminating and does justice to an important and urgent chapter in U.S. history.

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