HBO has released the Native Son trailer. Directed by Rashid Johnson from a screenplay by Suzan-Lori Parks based off the acclaimed novel by Richard Wright, the story follows Bigger Thomas (Moonlight’s Ashton Sanders in a riveting performance), a young man on the south side of Chicago who takes a job working as a driver for an affluent white family.
I caught Native Son at Sundance last month, and the first half of the film is incredibly strong with Johnson showing himself as a director to watch and Sanders giving a captivating performance as the quiet, volatile Bigger. However, the second half also follows the controversial plot of the book, and while the book can get away with getting into Bigger’s psychology, the character’s actions in the second half feel abrupt and unbelievable. As the story goes on, the air starts coming out of the narrative and the film starts to play into the prejudices that the first half looked to upend. I’ll be curious to see what the reaction is to the movie when it finally plays on HBO and if it makes any waves or if it just falls away.
Here’s what Adam Chitwood had to say in his review from Sundance:
Midway through the film, however, an event that is no doubt unforgettable for book readers occurs, and unfortunately the movie never recovers. I won’t spoil it in this review, but suffice it to say my feelings towards the film and Big specifically did a complete 180. The event is meant to underline the themes present in Wright’s novel, and indeed the book takes things even further, but in practice nothing in the first half of the film would lead you to believe Big would act and continue on in the manner he does throughout the second half of the movie. It’s a miscalculation of tone, and while the artful nature of Johnson’s filmmaking remains striking, the story never really recovers on a base character level.
Check out the Native Son trailer below. The film hits HBO on April 6th and also stars Margaret Qualley, Nick Robinson, KiKi Layne, Bill Camp, and Sanaa Lathan.