12 Years a Slave

By Peter Towe

Published on Saturday, November 16, 2013

12-years-a-slave12 Years a Slave is the type of movie that tends to come out during Oscar season.  The film is an adaptation of the 1853 autobiography Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped in Washington, D.C.  The film is directed by English director Steve McQueen, and stars Chiwetel Ejofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Paulson, and Brad Pitt.  The film tackles very tough subject matter fearlessly, and the end result is a fantastic film that is sure to be on the top of everyones Oscar list.  12 Years a Slave is relentless in its storytelling, and the end result is a beautiful film which at times is hard to watch.

12 Years a Slave begins with Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejofor) as a free black man living with his wife and children in Saratoga, New York.  Northup is a talented musician, and offered a great salary to tour with a show for a couple weeks.  Northup is tricked by two men after a night out in Washington D.C., and wakes up the next morning to find himself chained to the ground and imprisoned.  Realizing that he had been tricked into slavery, Northup protests that he is a free man, but this only leads to a severe beating.  From this point on, Solomon must keep his real identity and education hidden to avoid being beaten and killed. 

12 Years a Slave is an extremely intense film, and at times very hard to watch.  Slavery is not your typical subject matter in hollywood films, and it often takes a fearless director like Steve McQueen to make it happen.  In his third feature film, McQueen tackles an even heavier subject than his first two films, Hunger (2008) and Shame (2011).  Seeing a man go from free, to a slave overnight was a glimpse into just how twisted our society was not long ago.  Quentin Tarrintino tackles slavery in Django Unchained, but with an almost heightened sense of reality.  Django felt like it took place in Quentins world, while 12 Years a Slave has the brutality and feeling like you are watching something that really happened, and its hard to watch.

As with all true stories, Im sure things were added in to dramatize and facilitate the story to fit the screen, but both the directing and acting made this film very believable in its representation of the brutality of slavery.  Chiwetel Ejorfor was incredible as Solomon Northup.  The range of his performance was fascinating to see.  Michael Fassbender was excellent as the sadistic slave master Edwin Epps.  You truly dispize the kind of character Edwin Epps is and who he represents, and Fassbender channels this perfectly.   While these were two of the standout actors in the film, there were many great performances by many other actors that are worthy of praise, and Im sure when the Oscars roll around, there may be a couple names from this film.

Overall, 12 Years a Slave is both acted and shot beautifully.  The visual look of the film immerses you into the story, and Hans Zimmer does a great job filling in the blanks with his subtle but intense score.  Many great films are starting to come out with the Oscars around the corner, and 12 Years a Slave is not a film you should overlook.  While the film is emotionally exhausting, I think it a film that everyone needs to see.  Steve McQueen if he isn’t already will soon be a household name, and I am excited to see what direction he takes for his next film.


The Good

+ The writing, directing, and acting is perfectly executed

The Bad

- Not really a negative, but the film is very emotionally draining


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