Confirmation kerry washington

Confirmation Review: Kerry Washington Movie Captures the Anita Hill Hearing, But Without Much Feeling

grade_CThere’s a 16-minute stretch of Confirmation — premiering Saturday at 8/7c on HBO — that’s absolutely riveting: Oklahoma law professor Anita Hill sits before the Senate Judiciary Committee and slowly, painstakingly testifies about the sexual harassment she endured while working for Clarence Thomas, whose nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court is under their review.

Scandal‘s Kerry Washington plays Hill with quiet resolve. She’s a reluctant witness, we’ve been reminded over and over again, but despite the slightest tremble in her voice, she maintains a deliberate, just-the-facts cadence as she tells the powerful men in front of her about the romantic overtures repeatedly made by her one-time boss Thomas. There were his attempts to discuss graphic pornography (bestiality, group sex, rape). There were references to the the size of his own penis and his sexual prowess. There was even the infamous recollection that Thomas once asked her, “Who put pubic hair in my Coke?”

As Hill’s testimony and the senators’ questions drag on for hours — Republicans on the panel wanted to make sure Thomas’ rebuttals began in primetime — Washington lets us see the weariness of a woman mortified about discussing such unseemly topics while her elderly parents sit behind her, and also her confusion and embarrassment about why she never reported these misdeeds, and how she wound up following Thomas to a second place of employment.

What’s fascinating — and disappointing — about Confirmation is that we somehow manage to learn more about Hill in the recreation of scenes that are essentially dramatic re-enactments of C-Span clips you can watch right now on YouTube.

That leaves about an hour and a half of bloodless storytelling that ping-pongs from law offices to congressional corridors to Thomas’ living room — allowing a huge, all-star ensemble to do their best impressions of the hearings’ major power players without offering any real insight into how the proceedings personally affected them, and reducing Hill and Thomas to pieces on a political chessboard.

Confirmation Wendell PierceThe script by Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich) may be faithful to the historical record — but it comes at a price. Over and over, we see Thomas (played by The Wire‘s Wendell Pierce) sitting in the shadows with an unknowably grim expression, as his wife Virginia (The Americans‘ Alison Wright) stares at him with a combination of sympathy and inquiry. But the scenes are so vague, it leaves you wondering why Grant didn’t focus the picture entirely on Hill — allowing us to know the living, breathing woman at the center of the action. When Hill goes home to tell her parents there’s a firestorm of media attention about to descend on their family, for example, the camera zooms out from the full exchange, leaving us with a blurry impression, rather than anything tangible.

Director Rick Famuyiwa (Our Family Wedding), meanwhile, falls into a predictable rhythm: Scenes of Republicans (led by Bill Irwin as Sen. Jack Danforth) and Democrats (Greg Kinnear’s Sen. Joe Biden chairs the committee) jockeying for position while covering their own butts; a Big Dramatic Reenactment (with arched brows and tense exhalations and pursed lips as the key players stand on the sidelines); and then some old news footage (Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather clips all figure prominently) clueing us in to the public’s fickle sympathies over the course of the hearings. (It should be noted that Zoe Lister-Jones, as Biden aide Carolyn Hart, consistently steals scenes with the subtlest of gestures)

Famuyiwa and Grant remind us during the closing credits that Hill’s moment in the spotlight raised awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace — and may have led to the election of a record number of female members of Congress in the next election cycle. But given Confirmation‘s lack of dramatic purpose, these beats play like footnotes on a term paper, and not an especially compelling one at that.

The TVLine Bottom Line: Washington shines when her character takes the stand, but there’s little else in this pokey picture worth your “yes” vote.

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  1. jeni l gray says:

    Guess that’s what happens when you try to give a balanced account, instead of making it sensational. Glad I don’t depend on critics to tell me what to watch

    • Carol says:

      Exactly, some of the reviewers want the movie to be more dramatic like the O.J. Simpson series which I found laughable with the bad impressions and wigs and the Kardarshians. This is a serious topic on gender, race and power so it does not need fireworks to be riveting.

      The Anita Hill versus Clarence Thomas had a major impact on the political and social justice landscape but the reviewer questions the impact. After the hearings a lot of women were so disgusted to see that all male all white panel that more women than ever ran for office and got elected.

  2. Ash says:

    I was always going to pass on this, I love Kerry Washington. I think Hill”s testimony regardless not whether it was true or not started an important conservation of race/gender and work place relations. However, the liberal left bias is really starting to get old with there antics.

  3. April says:

    I’ve been excited about this ever since I’ve heard about it and this review doesn’t dim that at all. Instead of missing sensationalism, why not applaud the fact that they tried to make it a balanced account of what happened? It could have been another movie that told one side and tried to rewrite history instead of letting the public decide who’s side they want to be on. If anything, this could let a new generation of voters know how important this one event was on the political landscape in this country.

  4. Frederic Stephens says:

    It is so great that this movie tells the story. I saw Anita’s testimony when she gave it. I always thought she was an absolutely credible witness. People who did not see it when it happened need to see this movie. I am grateful for this movie at this time. People need to get an insight into the real character of the man sitting on the US Supreme Court.

  5. HAP says:

    As someone who vivdly remembers the hearings and has seen the HBO previews, I have to think the Wendell Pierce was greatly miscast in this. Pierce is a fine actor, but he just seems to me to have too much presence and gravitas to be playing Thomas. I’m thinking someone more like Courtney B. Vance would have been better for the role.

  6. Owen says:

    What a nice movie. Very true to life. The writing is what brings it to life. Almost everything that happens seems real. It’s about how a divorced dad and his 8 year-old son who are both trying to do the right thing in a tough situation (money problems, job problems, drinking problems, etc), as they get to really know each other, and as we get to know them in their struggles in their two days together. It’s refreshing just to see a good story done well.