Film Review: 12 Years a Slave (2013)

And the Oscar Goes to:

12 Years a Slave

Directed by: Steve McQueen

Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyong’o

 

12 Years a Slave, a film adaptation of Solomon Northup’s slave narrative memoir, Twelve Years a Slave, tells the tale of Solomon, a free black man, and his kidnapping and subsequent selling into the slave trade during mid-18th century America. Passed on from one slaver (William Ford, played by Benedict Cumberbatch) to another (Edwin Epps, played by Michael Fassbender) and having to adopt a slave name of Platt, Solomon spends a total of 12 years away from his wife and kids trapped in the slavery circles.

12 Years a Slave is a brutal and shocking retelling of Solomon’s struggles. Many films and TV programmes in the past have dealt with racism in their own way, but most have to be careful with the language and behaviour they show. 12 Years a Slave makes no effort to be cautious; instead choosing to portray the white slavers as they would have been back then: incredibly racist and cruel. And watching from a modern perspective this was, at times, difficult to watch. Adding that to the shocking whipping scenes and this film is a powerful retelling.

The performances in this film are also incredible: Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Fassbender work very well as slavers and the performance from Lupita Nyong’o deserves special praise. Playing Patsey, the favoured slave of William Ford, she has to deal with the racism fired at her, the sexual abuse given to her by Ford and the whipping she receives. Nyong’o plays her role to perfection and the emotions she shows throughout look genuine.

The editing and presentation of this film are also very well done. One particularly brilliant scene is just after Solomon fends off a beating, by JohnTibeats (Paul Dano), he has a noose strapped round his neck and is hoisted off the ground. While he is saved from the hanging, they leave him in the noose, having to tip-toe to touch the ground. This shot plays out for a considerable amount of time from several different angles, showing Solomon with the noose around his neck and everyone in the background just going about their day-to-day chores. No character comes to save Solomon, instead all choosing to avoid looking at him as they carry on. Beautiful, shocking, amazing. Several scenes follow suite in this way, and it all works to show how isolated and stuck they really are.

The only slight issue I have with this film is how the ending sequence comes about. The whole film follows the same speed, which is impressive, but it also means the ending comes about a bit out of nowhere. I understand it’s an adaptation so they had a script to follow, but it didn’t feel like it was building to an ending when it came about. That small issue aside, 12 Years a Slave is brutal, compelling and amazing. Brilliant performances (notably from Nyong’o) with brilliant editing ultimately deliver a very, very good movie.

 

Plot: * * *

Acting: * * * * *

Writing: * * * *

Presentation: * * * * *

Overall Rating:  * * * * ¼

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