Harriet

Harriet

2019, PG-13, 125 min. Directed by Kasi Lemmons. Starring Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., Joe Alwyn, Janelle Monáe, Clarke Peters, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Henry Hunter Hall, Zackary Momoh, Jennifer Nettles.

REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Nov. 1, 2019

Harriet Tubman as superhero? In this long-awaited biopic about the most famous conductor on the Underground Railroad, the eponymous historical figure travels hundreds of miles by foot to deliver dozens of slaves to freedom, exhibiting the kind of physical strength and unflinching courage usually attributable only to men. In a movie understandably short on humor, the running joke here is the repeated sight of Tubman (Erivo) bursting through the doors of a Philadelphia safe house run by black abolitionist William Still (Odom Jr.), followed by group after group of runaways she has miraculously led to the promised land.

The woman is unstoppable. This Harriet jumps off bridges to elude captors, brandishes pistols to threaten assailants, wades through deep waters to lead fugitives, and defies patriarchal authority to refuse to abandon those still shackled by the “monster of slavery,” and all the while Terence Blanchard’s unrelenting score plays in the background. And her superpower? The ability to divine the future through dreamlike premonitions that come to her in spells, forewarnings that Tubman believes are sent by God to guide her work and show her the way. It may not be a physical trait on par with Captain America’s agility or Doctor Strange’s levitating prowess, but then again, Harriet doesn’t require special effects to convey its champion’s near-mythic potency in confronting the evil of her day.

Like a classroom history lesson, the script by director Lemmons and Gregory Allen Howard dutifully recounts the life of this extraordinary person. The movie feels prosaic, although Tubman’s occasional intonation of a timeless spiritual in lieu of dialogue is an unexpected lyrical touch enhanced by the purity of Erivo’s voice. The movie takes certain liberties to shape the narrative, the most obvious example being the fictionalized character of Gideon Brodess (Alwyn), the blond-haired and blue-eyed slaveowner’s son who Tubman cared for during an extended illness when both were children. Weirdly enough, the dynamic between the two forms the central relationship in Harriet. Although Gideon’s obsession with Harriet is nothing like the twisted psychosexual attachment Michael Fassbender’s Edwin feels for Lupita Nyong’o’s Patsey in the harrowing 12 Years a Slave, he cannot accept the possibility that her devotion to him during their youth was anything but genuine. When the two characters inevitably face off near the end of the film, she rages and he snivels in an anticlimactic finish that begs the question of why the film fabricated a specific nemesis for Tubman. By this point, Erivo – who builds her performance until it’s an unbridled force of nature – seems capable of dispensing thunderbolts to singlehandedly vanquish the abominable institution of slavery. This Harriet Tubman has become a fierce social warrior, a wonder woman who deserves her own action figure.

Showtimes

Wed., Nov. 13

12:35, 3:40, 6:45, 9:50

Wed., Nov. 13

11:00am, 3:00, 5:15, 8:30

Thu., Nov. 14

11:40am, 2:50, 6:00, 10:00

Fri., Nov. 15

12:30, 3:40, 7:10, 10:20

Sat., Nov. 16

12:20, 3:35, 5:45, 9:05

Sun., Nov. 17

12:25, 3:45, 7:00, 10:10

Mon., Nov. 18

1:00, 4:15, 7:30, 10:45

Tue., Nov. 19

4:15, 7:35, 10:45
AFA 1:00

Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter Lane

5701 W. Slaughter, 512/861-7060, drafthouse.com/austin/theater/slaughter-lane

Showtimes at this venue are subject to frequent change. Please confirm daily times by phone or website.

Wed., Nov. 13

11:40am, 2:45, 5:45, 8:55

Wed., Nov. 13

11:45am, 2:50, 6:00, 9:15

Thu., Nov. 14

12:25, 3:30

Arbor Cinema @ Great Hills

9828 Great Hills Trail, 512/231-9742

Discounts daily before 6pm.

Wed., Nov. 13

CC/DVS 12:30, 3:30, 6:40, 9:35

Thu., Nov. 14

CC/DVS 12:30, 3:30, 6:40, 9:35

Barton Creek Square (AMC)

2901 South Capital of Texas Hwy, 512/306-1991, www.amctheatres.com

Matinee discounts available before 4pm daily. Bring Your Baby matinees the first Tuesday of every month.

Wed., Nov. 13

CC/DVS 12:20, 3:40, 6:50

Thu., Nov. 14

CC/DVS 12:20, 3:40, 6:50

Fri., Nov. 15

CC/DVS 12:20, 3:20

Sat., Nov. 16

CC/DVS 12:20, 3:20

Sun., Nov. 17

CC/DVS 12:20, 3:20

Mon., Nov. 18

CC/DVS 12:20, 3:20

Tue., Nov. 19

CC/DVS 12:20, 3:20

Cinemark 20 and XD

N. I-35 & FM 1825, 512/989-8535

Cost for 3-D and XD shows is regular ticket price plus a premium.

Wed., Nov. 13

digital 1:10, 4:20, 7:30, 10:40

Thu., Nov. 14

digital 10:00am, 1:10, 4:20, 7:30, 10:40

Cinemark Cedar Park

1335 E. Whitestone, Cedar Park, 800/326-3264

Call theatre for complete list of movies and showtimes.

Wed., Nov. 13

digital 1:15, 4:15, 7:20, 10:20

Thu., Nov. 14

digital 1:15, 4:15, 7:20, 10:20

Wed., Nov. 13

digital 12:20, 3:30, 6:25, 9:30

Cinemark Round Rock

4401 N. I-35, Round Rock, 800/326-3264

Cost for 3-D shows is regular ticket price plus a $3.50 premium. Call theatre for complete March 26-28 showtimes.

Wed., Nov. 13

digital 1:05, 4:15, 7:25, 10:25

Cinemark Southpark Meadows

9900 S. I-35, 800/326-3264

Cost for 3-D shows is regular ticket price plus a $3.50 premium.

Wed., Nov. 13

digital 10:50am, 2:15, 5:20, 8:25

City Lights Theatre

420 Wolf Ranch Parkway, Georgetown, 512/868-9922

Wed., Nov. 13

12:50, 3:50, 6:50, 9:55

Thu., Nov. 14

12:50, 3:50, 6:50, 9:55

EVO Entertainment

3200 Kyle Crossing, Kyle, 512/523-9009, www.evo-entertainment.com

Wed., Nov. 13

11:00am, 1:45, 4:30, 7:15, 10:00

Thu., Nov. 14

11:00am, 2:00, 5:00, 8:00, 10:55

Galaxy Highland 10

6700 Middle Fiskville, 512/467-7305, www.galaxytheatres.com

No one under 18 will be allowed in the theatre on Friday or Saturday after 7pm without an adult.

Wed., Nov. 13

CC 10:00am, 12:55, 4:00, 7:00, 10:00

Thu., Nov. 14

CC 10:00am, 12:55, 4:00, 7:00, 10:00

iPic Theaters Austin

3225 Amy Donovan Plaza, 512/568-3400, www.ipic.com

Wed., Nov. 13

11:15am, 2:45, 6:00, 9:00

Thu., Nov. 14

11:45am, 3:00

Metropolitan

901 Little Texas, 512/447-0101

Discounts daily before 6pm. Cost for 3-D shows is regular ticket price plus a $3.50 premium.

Wed., Nov. 13

CC/DVS 1:00, 4:10, 7:20, 10:45

Thu., Nov. 14

CC/DVS 1:00, 4:10, 7:20, 10:40

Moviehouse & Eatery

8300 N. FM 620, Bldg. B, 512/501-3520, www.themoviehouse.com/trails/

Wed., Nov. 13

11:30am, 2:45, 6:00, 9:15

Thu., Nov. 14

11:30am, 2:45

Moviehouse & Eatery - Lantana Place

7415 Southwest Parkway, Building 7, 512/572-0770, www.themoviehouse.com/lantana/

Wed., Nov. 13

12:10, 3:35, 10:30

Thu., Nov. 14

12:10, 3:35, 7:00, 10:30

Sky Cinemas

13201 US-290, 512/457-0700, www.skycinemas.com

Wed., Nov. 13

12:30, 3:20, 6:10, 9:00

Thu., Nov. 14

12:30, 3:20, 6:10, 9:00

Starplex 12 San Marcos

1250 Wonder World Drive, San Marcos, 512/805-8000

Wed., Nov. 13

6:30, 10:00

Thu., Nov. 14

12:30, 3:30, 6:30, 9:30

Violet Crown Cinema

434 W. Second, 512/495-9600, www.violetcrowncinema.com

Four-hour parking validation in attached garage with ticket purchase. Reserved seating; bar and cafe on-site.

Thu., Nov. 14

2:35, 4:20, 6:00

Westgate 11

4477 S. Lamar, 512/899-2717

Discounts daily before 6pm. Cost for 3-D shows is regular ticket price plus a $3.50 premium.

Wed., Nov. 13

CC/DVS 12:15, 3:10, 6:05, 9:00

Thu., Nov. 14

CC/DVS 12:15, 3:10

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Kasi Lemmons Films
Black Nativity
Kasi Lemmons’ adaptation of this Langston Hughes work is a muddled church-time reverie.

Steve Davis, Nov. 29, 2013

Talk to Me
As the Washington, D.C., deejay Petey Greene, Don Cheadle leads a great cast through this biopic and musical glance back at the Sixties and Seventies.

Toddy Burton, Aug. 3, 2007

More by Steve Davis
Playing With Fire
There's no spark in this joke-free firefighters-versus-kids flop

Nov. 8, 2019

Austin Film Festival Review: <i>Scandalous</i>
Review: Scandalous
The true story behind The National Enquirer's smear machine

Oct. 29, 2019

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Harriet, Kasi Lemmons, Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., Joe Alwyn, Janelle Monáe, Clarke Peters, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Henry Hunter Hall, Zackary Momoh, Jennifer Nettles

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle