|Starring||Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Penelope Ann Miller, Jackie Earle Haley|
|Release||9 DEC (UK) Certificate 15|
Established right away is that Turner, as a child, is taught to read, which is unheard of among his fellow slaves, although any opportunity for dramatic irony in comparing his gifted education to the general ignorance and fake civility among the slave-owners gets lost in the telling. Then, as an adult literate slave, he is coerced into the position of preacher to help keep other unruly slaves in check, and yet any question of faith in the face of such adversity goes largely unexplored. Finally, after one unspeakable act too many, Turner leads an uprising in a bid for freedom for himself and his fellow slaves, resulting in a brutal and bloody finale. And it is this story - a harrowing existence leading to righteous vengeance - that Parker throws all his efforts into exploring.
And portraying. Because, in casting himself as his own lead actor, Parker not only makes it clear that this is a passion project for him, but also delivers a dedicated performance worthy of such devotion. For better or worse, the trauma that Turner experiences could be likened to that in The Passion Of The Christ, with his stoic, well-mannered, good and god-fearing ways standing as a stark contrast to the horrific acts to which he bears witness and, ultimately, then endures himself. And throughout it all, Parker handles these emotive scenes very well, with an inner terror giving way to fierce resolve.
Elsewhere Armie Hammer adds layers of inner conflict and confusion in his role as Turner's owner, while other supporting actors such as Jackie Earle Haley simply bring their top racist 'A' game to make up the majority cast of disgustingly evil slave owners that help to sell the horrendous situation explored here.
Of course, overall, this makes the film seem very one-sided, and bear with me while I try to navigate through the pitfalls of this particularly tricky argument: is it really the case that every white person in Virginia at this time was a despicable, murderous racist as is depicted here? Does it even matter, when the nuances are far less significant than the overall message? Or does the very fact that people may leave this film questioning the historical accuracy of this literal black-and-white depiction suggest that this film has failed in an attempt to convince of its own true life story?
It's a similar problem that I explored badly in my Suffragette review last year and just as the case was then, it's safer for me to simply suggest that something hasn't quite worked for me in this film and leave it at that. Trying to make a valid argument for anything to the contrary in the face of such a crucial real-life event would all be a bit (*sharp intake of breath*)