Review: NATIVE SON Is A Dark And Meaningful Thriller

FIRST IMPRESSION

Native Son is a mostly very well-made thriller that tells its unorthodox story in an entertaining and thought-provoking way.
Writing
Directing
Acting
Technical Merit

Native Son is a new drama film directed by Rashid Johnson based on the novel of the same name by Richard Wright. The movie follows a young African-American man whose life is instantly changed when he takes a job as a driver for a rich family. It debuted at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival to positive reviews.

The story of the film is definitely very interesting. Going into the movie without any knowledge of the source material, the film had plenty of twists and turns in store, which is part of why the movie is so impactful. If you are fully familiar with the storyline going in, it is unlikely that you will be as shocked by what transpires.

That being said, having little knowledge of the story in advance can also be somewhat confusing. The beginning of the story makes it seem like the film is going to be something like Driving Miss Daisy. However, the look and sound of the movie make it seem much darker, and only when the twist happens are you able to understand why the film was building suspense.

native son sanders layne
Ashton Sanders in NATIVE SON. Photo Courtesy: Matthew Libatique/HBO.

There are also a few interesting quirks that the movie has that it does not use effectively. For example, the film uses voiceover narration to provide the audience with the character’s internal monologues. Again, this makes more sense in the second half of the movie, but even so, the idea of the protagonist as an unreliable narrator is not explored effectively or adequately.

Regardless, the film does a great job of developing the characters in the movie. The protagonist is quite compelling. The film handles topics of race and social class in a way that is thought-provoking but much subtler than most recent movies addressing similar themes. This will allow audiences to connect with the character and his story on multiple levels.

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Ashton Sanders in NATIVE SON. Photo Courtesy: Matthew Libatique/HBO.

The actors are the absolute highlight of the film. The ensemble is filled with recent breakout actors and actresses, and they are all phenomenal. Ashton Sanders is wonderful in his leading role. He becomes inseparable from the character because of the nuance and detail he puts into his turn. Margaret Qualley is also a standout, giving a performance that is intriguing and mysterious. KiKi Layne, Bill Camp, and Nick Robinson all do very well in their roles too.

On a technical level, the movie was mostly impressive. There were a few shots that were distracting, like some that were shot with weird lenses or some that were overly artistic. However, some of the cinematography, especially during the second half, does an excellent job of creating unease. The production design is also excellent, often helping the story or characterization.

Overall, Native Son was a very impressive film. It definitely has a lot of layers, but once those layers come together, you will realize how brilliant it is.

Native Son debuts on HBO on April 6 at 10pm.

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Sean Boelman
Sean is a film student, aspiring filmmaker, and life-long cinephile. For as long as he can remember, he has always loved film, but he credits the film Pan's Labyrinth as having started his love of film as art. Sean enjoys watching many types of films, although some personal favorite genres include dramatic comedies, romantic comedies, heist films, and art horror.

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