Apparently, I’m not smart enough to realize how good this movie is. It had potential and I can chalk some of its failings up to the difficulty of adapting some things from a book to the big screen (the mysticism and some of the supernatural elements, in particular), but a lot of it, I just don’t get.
I actually think this film might have benefited at times from a narrator. As distracting as they can be, the film as it is leaves too much guesswork, which at the very least is distracting. The flashback sequences are awkward and faltering at best. Oprah Winfrey turns in a great performance as a runaway slave who escaped to a (hopefully) better life in Ohio. A life of slavery, though, isn’t so easily left behind. The ghosts of her past haunt her both literally and figuratively and make for some truly powerful moments. Kimberly Elise turns in an incredible performance and Beah Richards is strong as well. The “star” of the film, though, is Thandie Newton and here is where my understanding just falls apart. I thought her performance as the title character was almost laughably bad and really distracted from what was going on.
Despite some great performances, this film ultimately is critically acclaimed because it has Oprah’s blessing and is based on a Pulitzer-prize winning novel. As a film, it’s a dud. It’s too long, there are too many extemporaneous scenes that serve no useful purpose, even the usually-apt Jonathan Demme makes some weird and distracting directorial decisions. Did I mention that I don’t get how people can buy into Thandie Newton’s performance?