‘Nina’ Film Review: The Devil is in the Details

Zoe Saldana stars in 'Nina' for RLJ Entertainment. (Cropped movie poster)

Zoe Saldana stars in ‘Nina’ for RLJ Entertainment.
(Cropped movie poster)

Writing for the Huffington Post, The Burton Wire‘s founder & editor-in-chief Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., reviews Cynthia Mort’s controversial biopic starring Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone and David Oyelowo as Clifton Henderson, Simone’s caretaker, manager and confidante. Read an excerpt of Nsenga’s review below:

“The complexity of Simone’s story is lost in writer-director Cynthia Mort’s first feature film, where she boldly goes where no first time feature filmmaker should probably ever go, telling the story of an iconic figure whose life experiences and activism are central to her memory and identity. Simone is revered by critics and fans because of a willingness to be true to herself, at all costs, and to discuss painful issues like colorism and discrimination in her music and public life. Simone’s vulnerability and strength, which were on full display in her artistry, are missing from the film, which attempts to give audiences a peek into Simone’s turbulent life during the 1990s.

Mort explores Simone’s life as an ex-pat, whose return to the United States is marred by mental illness and the discovery she has been financially exploited by her record label. Simone’s meeting with her manager Henri Edwards (Ronald Guttman) to discuss her missing money spirals out of control and the “High Priestess of Soul” ends up in an insane asylum under the care of Clifton Henderson (Oyelowo), a nurse who looks out for her. Simone and Henderson flee the asylum and the United States and head to the south of France, where he becomes her caretaker/manager. Saldana does a solid job of capturing Simone’s whimsical and explosive nature although she struggles with maintaining Simone’s distinct style of speech. Oyelowo is convincing as Clifton, Simone’s caretaker who eventually becomes her friend, confidant and manager, even though his performance feels constrained. Perhaps it is because Saldana and Oyelowo lack the on-screen chemistry needed to give greater life to Simone and Henderson’s emerging and intense friendship, that the weight of their friendship is never really felt or conveyed.

While the performances are decent, the film suffers from more problems than the much, publicized make-up job gone wrong in attempting to physically transform Saldana into Simone. Despite title cards, the time period of the film is never clear because the narrative and stylistic elements are not reflective of the 1990s…”

Read the review in its entirety at Huffington Post.

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