Time Out says
Widows' Cynthia Erivo supplies dramatic weight to a project that squanders it on awkward action moments and simplistic showdowns.
A towering figure of pre-Civil War history, Harriet Tubman scared the bejeezus out of slave owners, shook the racist foundations of the Deep South, and ended up serving as a Union spy during the war. But try as it might to present her as a kind of pistol-toting Dirty Harriet, this clunky biopic—directed and co-scripted by Kasi Lemmons—doesn't come close to doing her justice. Only the reliably brilliant Cynthia Erivo emerges with any real credit in a talismanic lead performance full of fire and fury.
Raised as Minty (Harriet was her freed name), Tubman’s spirituality and sense of mission—”I’ll be free or die!” is her mantra—are stoked to a near-messianic blaze by the impressive Erivo. Despite warnings never to “look a white man in the eye” as she travels covertly through the slave-owning South, she tackles everything head-on. Her past traumas are stitched into the story via sepia flashbacks and ESP-like premonitions—or “spells”—that help her pilot frightened groups through moonlit landscapes patrolled by slave hunters.
Backed up by a bombastic score that never lets a scene go by unaccompanied by blaring cues, Harriet is backboned by a hoary good-versus-evil rivalry. Joe Alwyn (The Favourite) provides a hissable, cardboard-cut-out villain as the son of Harriet’s old plantation owner. The fugitive scenes are briskly handled, though, even if Harriet could use a few more of them. The film is at its best when it’s waist-deep in creeks and hostile wilderness, tallying this remarkable woman’s bravery in whizzing bullets and barking dogs.
Cast and crew