Movie Review: 12 Years a Slave

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Stars: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, Benedict Cumberpatch, Brad Pitt, Paul Dano, Alfre Woodard, Sarah Paulson, Paul Giamatti

Rated R for violence/cruelty, some nudity and brief sexuality, Running time 134 minutes, Drama/Historical/Biography

Compare to: Shawshank Redemption (1994), The Passion of the Christ (2004)

Movies like this don’t get made that often. I don’t mean movies about slaves or how one man triumphed the white system when everyone was against him. I certainly don’t mean movies like The Butleror Lincoln, where much meaning is lost through all the Hollywood “doctoring.”

Movies like 12 Years a Slave are rare in their authenticity to the source, the engaging way in which they’re told, and it’s ability to make you cringe without ever looking away. Director Steve McQueen has done it again, in a story that’s both amazing and horrifying.

In 1841, Solomon Northup is a free black man living with his wife and two kids in Saratoga Springs, New York. After hearing of a deal that could make him a lot of money by two traveling showmen, Northup is kidnapped and sold into slavery. Over the next 12 years, the hardships and cruelty is forced to endure becomes a story of hope and survival as Solomon’s eventual slavemaster Edwin Epps is a particularly miserable man and makes his slaves suffer for much of his own inadequacies. Based on a true story.

One of the few kind acts in the film.

Given as a gift, this is one of the few kind acts in the film.

In some ways I’m not sure if I’m a qualified enough writer to articulately described how amazing this film is. There is not one costume, actor, bit of dialogue, piece of music, or pace of story that needs improvement or could have used tweaking to drive it home. This is a movie that once you see it, you may never forget. As wonderfully shot as it is brutal, every second has it’s place.

A decent place to start would be the case. Ejiofor has finally found a role that not only brings him out of any possible cinematic obscurity but could easily put him on a map with the modern day greats. From his introduction to the end, his performance as the man wrongfully imprisoned is so heavy, one wonders what kind of toll it might have taken on him in real life. There’s not enough good things to say about him.

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Much of the credit of course goes to the film’s director McQueen, as his signature certain shots are so long and uninterrupted, we’re given time to focus on a single aspect of a scene and allowed to really dive into the character’s mind, wondering what could be going on in the mind of a man who was with his wife and kids only days earlier, but now being slapped for speaking in a tone that’s displeasing to men who call themselves ‘master.’

One shot in particular goes on for well over a minute, as we watch Northup hanging from a tree with his toes barely on the ground for support as he chokes and gasps just enough to stay alive. After realizing how long this goes on, fellow slaves begin to come out of their quarters and carry on with their lives as a group of kids plays nearby, only for you to realize that this man’s life may leave him and who would hardly care? This is life.

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Nyong’o (center) pleads for her safety in a scene where you’re certain it’s not going to end well.

Michael Fassbender does a great job as well of course and if he weren’t so known for his previous roles, might have made you believe he really does treat people around him like they’re his property. It’s the actor’s third film with director McQueen and given the all three of their efforts together, fans of their work will know the kind of performance to expect while still seeing something unfamiliar.

Fassbender’s role Epps, the drunk cotton plantation owner who acts like a spoiled child on Christmas is a role on par with Ralph Fiennes role of Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List. Vile and repugnant, he takes no issue with beating and demoralizing his “property,” believing it to be of no wrong doing to mistreat what he owns.

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Some scenes will go on longer than you want them to, but by the end, you’ll exhale with relief that it’s over but will hopefully take away something you didn’t have before. Everyone should be warned the intensity the film and that it’s not for the faint of heart. Some audience members walked out due to the unexpected barbarism feature in the film. But the worse the situations get, the more exhilarating it is when they’re overcome.

Grade: A+

Below is an interview with the director and cast, where McQueen does not suffer a fool and explains the universal themes in the film. It’s funny and awkward at the same time to see how short he is with the interviewer who is intent on speaking of race.

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3 Responses to “Movie Review: 12 Years a Slave”

  1. B-rizzle Says:

    Brad Pitt’s scene with Fassbender was classic.

    • Taylor Says:

      Yeah, that was probably my favorite scene, the first one that featured Pitt but I figured I’d put a spotlight on the other cast members. Too many good things to say about this movie.

    • fatalfuryguy Says:

      Hey B-rizzle!

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