Nate Parker's passion project about Nat Turner's rebellion is a slow slog of a historical retelling of slavery. The movie moves at a plodding pace and spends more time on the lives of slaves than it does on the rebellion that made this historical figure memorable. Parker as a director makes some poor decisions and puts more focus on the tortures of slaves though pulls the camera away when it could make the most impact and rests too long on other scenes and characters that don't serve the story well. The characters only receive a shallow treatment and has some confusing plot developments.
Parker stars on top of directing as the rebellious preacher who leads the uprising in murdering slave owners. His performance is decent and possibly the best part of the film though a lackluster ending and controversy will most likely cost him awards. his owner Samuel Turner (Armie Hammer) is shown as a drunkard and careless though often ruthless when he does not get his way. I would have preferred this character take up less time of the film and receive less character development than the leading women. There is no emotional resonance when he finally receives his due. Jackie Earle Haley plays a generic slave hunter villain that had no depth of character as the main evil and felt too much like a stock bad guy.
Colman Domingo is painfully underutilized as another slave on the plantation named Hark. He does not have many lines and only receives a small amount of camera time during the uprising though I've enjoyed his acting on television. Aja Naomi King plays Nat's wife Cherry and though she has a romance with the lead, she too is taken out of the plot and not given much character development. Mark Boone Junior plays a racist preacher that recruit Nat into visiting other plantations.
The story does not progress naturally as there is only Nat's guilt and not a steady sense of rebellion until much later in the film. The plot takes so long to get going that it will lead viewers bored and checking the time to see how much longer they have to sit through. With plenty of violent scenes, there is no shortage of sickening display of the atrocities of the past but the emotional resonance is not there. Most disappointing of all was the minuscule amount of time given to the rebellion. Details were lost and great scenes seemed to be cut or never filmed and the final product felt weak.
Nate Parker has experienced a fair amount of controversy due to allegations in his past and this will not help his film as it has not performed in its first weekend at the box office. With bad reviews and poor word of mouth, The Birth of a Nation will be a forgettable film that tried to compete in early awards season but has generated little buzz. I had expected much more considering the hype after controversy struck the Oscars last year and this movie was touted as a change, but that is not the case as this movie fails at what it tried to do.