Saturday, 17 December 2016


The low-budget directorial debut, many more times blighted by unchecked, unhoned ambition than it is enriched by it. Nate Parker's The Birth of a Nation is both, in almost equal measure, but his ambition is bolstered by that which even veteran directors often lack: conviction. When this vanity project - a vanity that extends outward, encompassing a range of ideas so broad as to inspire as much as repel, and accumulating all in a disquieting inward pull - is not merely adequate, it is either enthralling or horribly inadequate. Parker's inexperience - it might not be his inexperience, but it's this trait to which I'l choose to chalk it up - yields a combination of indulgence and neglect, a careless approach whose narrow-minded determination seeks to impress through blunt force alone. Its ideological purpose succeeds, but the film suffers, not only in form and technique but also in that very purpose, the dilution of its message as a direct result of Parker's shoddiness as a director. And, yes, of his vanity too. The Birth of a Nation is a questionable biopic of, in fact, limited ambition for the most part, throttled by reverence to christian theology and by its director's unflinching self-aggrandization, until it makes manifest that purpose. The violent, grotesque, barbaric sequence that opens its third act is undercut more by what follows it than what precedes it, but its vicious power is undeniable. This is not just gratifying cruelty, this is needful cruelty, a nastiness in which we may not participate, yet which we're encouraged to support. Finally, something to show for all that ambition.