MOVIE REVIEW: 12 Years a Slave

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12 years a slave

12 Years a Slave is a historical dramatic film based on the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841.  The film is based on Northup’s 1853 autobiography 12 Years a Slave.  Steve McQueen directed the film from a screenplay by John Ridley.  McQueen only has two other feature films to his credit, Hunger and Shame, both of which are fantastic.  The film stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup with support coming from the likes of Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Lupita Nyong’o.  Fassbender has starred in all three of McQueen’s features and is the perfect muse for his challenging material.  The film premiered at this this years Telluride Film Festival on August 30.

Solomon Northup (Ejiofor) is a free black man who makes a living at playing the violin.  He lives in New York with his wife and two young children, until one day he is tricked and eventually taken captive by two men claiming to want his musical services.  Northup is eventually shipped down to New Orleans where he is sold into slavery to William Ford (Cumberbatch) to work on his cotton plantation.  Northup is an educated man and eventually comes to blows with one of the overseers of the plantation.  In order to save his life, Ford sells Northup to Edwin Epps (Fassbender), an evil and abusive slave owner.  Its on this plantation that he meets Patsey (Nyong’o), a young female slave who has the affection of the slave owner, and the hatred of the slave owners wife.  A good portion of his life is spent on the Epps plantation and with no means to escape or any way to contact his family, he is stuck in slavery but is always looking for a way out.

Steve McQueen has delivered another challenging, yet brilliant film.  He is quickly becoming one of my favorite directors.  It is very uncomfortable watching this type of inhumanity even if it is only a movie.  On the other hand, Its a good thing we have movies like this to remind us of where we came from and how far we’ve come.  It is so hard for me to comprehend how human beings could treat other human beings this way, and yet McQueen pulls it off with such beauty and power.  Last year we had a completely different take on slavery in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, which happens to be a very entertaining film, but its a movie like 12 Years a Slave that really makes an impact and leaves a lasting impression.  I know it certainly made an impact on me.  I’m sure this film will be a very hot item come awards season and McQueen could make history himself if he’s able to win Best Director at next years Oscars.  Speaking of awards, the acting was absolutely top notch and should receive all sorts of recognition.  Chiwetel Ejiofor is unflinching in his portrayal of a free man turned slave and deserves all of the accolades coming his way.  Not to be outdone, Michael Fassbender turns in a pitch-perfect performance of a character you’ll absolutely hate.  The entire cast was fantastic, and I’d also like to mention the outstanding supporting performance of Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey.  Although 12 Years a Slave is undoubtedly one of the best films of the year, it is also heartbreaking and very difficult to watch.  That said, everyone should make an effort to see this film.

Grade: A

12 Years a Slave opens in Indianapolis on Friday, November 1.

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