12 Years a Slave Film Review
If history is what we’ve accomplished, then it should be a measurement of how far we’ve come along, and how much we’ve learned. Steve McQueen truthfully captures one of the major struggles in our history with 12 Years a Slave, reflecting the agony of what we create “the other” to be, and reminds us how there always will be “the other.”
McQueen is masterful at showing us scenes that are so full of genuine humanity, whether it’s brutal or touching, and he exercises that talent well in this film. His subtle touches of horror puts us in the shoes of Solomon Northup, inviting the audience to share in his agony, as well as his moments of triumph. For example, when Northup is captured, McQueen lets the audience discover the chains along with Northup and allows the camera to rise out of the cell and reveal that world going on without him. Screenwriter John Ridley pens some powerful moments that are wonderfully brought to life by the cast, and the striking vision of McQueen. The film is deserving of plenty of Oscar nominations come awards season.
Chiwetal Ejiofor gives a natural and moving performance as Solmon Northup, as we see the agony and fire in his eyes through the hard labor, the beatings, and the willingness to endure. Ejiofor is an underrated talent that shines bright in this film, from the outbursts of rage, the stirring songs he takes part in to save his soul, and the frustration of being somebody’s property. The injustice that Northup suffers is brought to our hearts through Ejiofor with a force you can’t deny. Ejiofor is joined by a talented cast, including Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps, an abusive slave owner, Benedict Cumberbatch as Ford, a slave owner who feels for his property, and Brad Pitt as Bass, a carpenter that believes slavery shouldn’t exist.
12 Years a Slave thrusts you into the life of slavery and injustice, just as Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas puts you in the shoes of a gangster. It’s heartfelt without being melodramatic, and it covers territory we’ve all seen before in the most honest way. This film is essential cinema.
The only real drawback here is if you don’t like films that are direct and raw. This film isn’t meant to be entertaining in any direct way, and it certainly doesn’t leave you with a neat ending, so those that are looking for something tied with a bow might be disappointed. There also may be some that won’t favor the way that McQueen tends to use silence as his score; not allowing music to direct the way we should feel about a scene.
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