Sunday, December 29, 2013

12 Years A Slave

Year: 2013
Director: Steve McQueen
Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong'o, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt

Plot: Based on the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man from New York who was tricked, kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841.

Review: I am glad to have been able to catch this film, as films of this kind aren't easy to find on this part of the world where I'm from.

Much like Django Unchained but with much more realism and less over-the-top theatrics, 12 Years A Slave is a film about slavery, and like Django, it doesn't hold back on the brutality of the era. Director Steve McQueen takes this incredible true story and tells it like it is, which will break your heart at times, but you never lose hope for its hero, Solomon Northup.

Based on the book of the same title written by Solomon, it recounts the harrowing 12 years of Solomon's life as a slave, after he is tricked and kidnapped by slavers, and then sold to farm owners in New Orleans. He is renamed as Platt and put to work, first with a kind but indifferent plantation owner named Ford, then later sold to a slightly unhinged and cruel cotton farm owner, Edwin Epps. 

At first, Solomon defies his current situation before eventually doing what he has to do to live another day, even if it means leaving behind his former life as a carpenter and violinist back home. But through Chiwetel Ejiofor's awesome performance, we as the audience never lose sight of his hope that some day he will be liberated and he will find his way home. Ejiofor puts in every emotion required exceptionally well, whether it's standing up for himself or during quieter moments when he ponders his fate. He should receive an Oscar nomination here, he truly has earned it. 

Not to be outdone is Michael Fassbender, a frequent collaborator with McQueen, who gives Edwin Epps a menacing demeanor, making him exceptionally cruel, but not over-the-top evil. The fine balance Fassbender provides his character to keep him relatively human despite being a deceitful one is commendable. Sarah Paulson also shines as Epps' spiteful wife, who despises her husband as much as the female slave he covets. That female slave in question, Patsey, is played splendidly by newcomer Lupita Nyong'o, who may not get as many dramatic scenes as Ejiofor overall, but hits a home run whenever she gets her chance. Brad Pitt, who is also one of the film's producers, gets a minor role as a Canadian abolitionist who helps Solomon. It's a short appearance, but he's effective nonetheless.

McQueen himself, as well as the production crew deserve plenty of credit too. They've certainly gone out of their way to make this story as authentic as possible. The recreation of the era, especially the farms and land in the south is amazing. Add to that the great cinematography (most evident during silent and long lingering shots of the trees and sky), costumes and music (party music featuring fiddles and flutes or sing and clap songs of the slaves) and you have a beautiful yet haunting depiction of a time gone by.

12 Years A Slave is a truly remarkable film with equally remarkable performances from its cast. It's not an easy film to sit through (it's as violent as it gets), but it's a must watch. (4/5) 

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