Saturday, September 19, 2020

Antebellum - Movie Review

The Movie: Antebellum

The Directors: Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz

The Cast: Janelle Monáe, Eric Lange, Jena Malone, Jack Huston, Kiersey Clemons, Gabourey Sidibe, Marque Richardson, Robert Aramayo, Lily Cowles, Tongayi Chirisa

The Story: Successful author Veronica Henley finds herself trapped in a horrifying reality and must uncover the mind-bending mystery before it's too late.

The Review:
Even with the long delays due to theaters shutting down, I was able to go in blind for the most part which was very intentional because the movie contains a major twist. The creators, Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz, looked to give the audience a truly shocking experience that would emphasize America's history with racism from the slave days all the way to today. I really feel like the twist and the shock would have been much more effective if the movie had been able to come out before the world turned upside down with racism in America moving to the forefront of our collective consciousness.

What we have seen, experiences, and/or have been a part of over the last few months has opened a lot of people's eyes and given the entire country a new perspective on just how prevalent racism is in our country right now. It's not a thing of the past and it's not something we fixed with the civil rights movement. Collectively, we have a much better understanding of the fact that black people in America are being brutalized, tortured, and essentially enslaved just as much as when the country was first being established through colonization. All that being said, this movie definitely hits in a different way than it would have six months ago.

Six months ago, there would have been shocking revelation and disbelief at what would clearly be considered a wild work of fiction that may have some roots in reality. Now, this movie is just another reminder of what we are seeing every single day during protests, during traffic stops, and in every level of our government so now we're like, yeah we get it already. Thanks for yet another reminder that white people have hated black people for centuries.

Let's talk about Janelle Monáe for a moment. I've been waiting for her to have a breakout, superstar making role ever since she put in work in Hidden Figures and this was supposed to be that moment. The performance she gives in this movie is nothing short of spectacular, she owns every single moment she has on screen, and this should have been that moment if it wasn't for a disjointed story and the subpar performances around her. Jena Malone and Jack Huston were caricatures with no depth and they gave me no reason to really get angry with them like I should have. They were more laughable than intolerable. Kiersey Clemons I felt was wasted with an unnecessary role and Gabourey Sidibe was fun although she was only given one note to hit through every moment of her time on screen.

While the performances were hit and miss which took away from the overall quality of the movie, my biggest issue overall was with how the story was structured. The movie is basically a revenge film, there's no secret there and so one would expect a heavy emphasis on a brutal and lengthy third act where all the bad people are systematically taken down. Well, let me tell you. The first half of the movie focuses on the plantation and the slave masters enjoying their dominance over the slaves. This took way too long and could have been cut down considerably. From there, things start twisting and turing and eventually lead to the big reveal. At that point, the big climax we've all been waiting for feels so rushed and dissatisfying that it nearly ruins the entire movie.

There are so many ways that this movie could have worked beautifully, it just was fighting an uphill battle against all the different ways that it didn't work. Throw in the unfortunate timing of its eventual release versus its original release and even the best parts of the movie just don't land as well as they should have. I would have liked to have seen a brief setup, the twists and turns, and then a full on Tarantino style reckoning that would have had people cheering and feeling satisfied with the bloody and necessary justice being delivered on screen.

The Verdict:
Antebellum is a movie that had a chance to be great but ended up falling flat and felt off kilter in so many ways. With so many movies about slavery already out there, this one needed to be something special and it really wasn't. We're on another level now when it comes to awareness of racism and our tolerance level for it and unfortunately this movie couldn't keep up.

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