- Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor (Children of Men), Michael Fassbender (Prometheus), Benedict Cumberbatch (Atonement) and more.
- Directed by: Steve McQueen (Shame)
- Synopsis: “12 YEARS A SLAVE is based on an incredible true story of one man’s fight for survival and freedom. In the pre-Civil War United States, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. Facing cruelty (personified by a malevolent slave owner, portrayed by Michael Fassbender) as well as unexpected kindnesses, Solomon struggles not only to stay alive, but to retain his dignity. In the twelfth year of his unforgettable odyssey, Solomon’s chance meeting with a Canadian abolitionist (Brad Pitt) forever alters his life.”
- Rating: Rated R for language, intense violence and torture, nudity, sexual content and thematic elements.
- Must-Watch Trailer:
Directed by Steve McQueen (Shame), 12 Years a Slave is a film based on the true story of Mr. Solomon Northup, an established, beloved and accomplished freeman from upstate New York in the 1840s who was abducted, uprooted from his family and way of living, transported South and sold into slavery. This time period drama, adapted from the autobiographical novel of the same name that was authored by Northup himself, stars a plethoric cast and is a story of importance, relevance and beauty.
Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Northup (alongside, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti, a McQueen castmember favorite Michael Fassbender and several others) and brings a performance that portrays not only the physical toil of this wronged man but also the spiritual, mental and emotional turmoil he suffered and causes viewers to live a part of it with him.
In this unintended tragic journey on his path in life, Northup encounters violence, hatred, cruelty and more with one thing on his mind: returning to the life he once had and his wife and two children. Films such as this perhaps need no warning given the subject matter and time period, but audience members would do well to remember to expect time and attention given to the cruelties seen as more commonplace than not in the mid-1800 slavery-driven South. Some scenes, tough to watch, will remind viewers of scenes from the likes of Amistad, Roots and, more recently, Django Unchained and are given lengthy runs onscreen adding to the emotional toil.
An incredible story worthy of being told in a manner that is strong and does not shy away from the brutal and barbaric conditions of Northup’s plight, McQueen impressively takes viewers on a rollercoaster of experienced emotions (anger, sadness, joy, hope and sorrow).
While it is impressive, I did have a few issues with the film. Yes, it is sure to push a few buttons with people in the way in which the camera lingers on scenes of torture and brutality; and, yes, it is sure to make a few people grimace with the time-period usage of the n-word; and yes, the musical score is not “signature” (no one listening to the soundtrack in a year will be able to say “Oh yes, that’s from 12 Years a Slave!” because it uses the exact same motif over and over again that Zimmer also used in Inception-I kept thinking about the spinning top whenever I heard it.), despite its beauty. But the main issue I had with the film was its presentation of the passing of time…because there really was none, or perhaps it could be argued that it was too subtle. 12 Years a Slave lacks in its sense of time while telling the tale. Watching the film, no one would know that 12 years transpire were it not for the title of the film itself and a little bit of gray hair added. At the most, until the end when time is “reintroduced” if you will, it may seem that perhaps 3-5 years transpire when in actuality it was far more.
That, added with the lack of explanation of a few minor details, takes this film with amazing performances full of weight, authenticity and power and lowers it a tad from my initial expectations. Northup’s account as told by McQueen, nonetheless, is still masterful, mindful and moving.
The delicacy used in presenting the material along with the dedication of staying close to the source makes 12 Years a Slave a journey in time with a timeless message of hope and the power of it.
My Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars for 12 Years a Slave
*I will say though, I would be lying if I didn’t think about seeing Django pop in with his blue suit, guns a-blazing, while rolling through the cotton field on his horse as I watched this movie. 😉 But that’s an entirely different film altogether!
(Remember, to read this review of mine and over 250 more, check out THE ARCHIVE of movies I have reviewed anytime. Know before you go…or rent…or buy!)
Thanks for reading! Happy Watching!
–T, The Focused Filmographer