Sunday, November 3

12 Years A Slave Review

12 Years A Slave
Dir: Steve McQueen
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, and Benedict Cumberbatch

The subject of slavery has been handled in film before though most of the films were unsuccessful in honestly portraying the never-ending despair and dehumanizing atrocities associated. British director Steve McQueen handles the subject in an unflinching and undistracted manner, displaying everything through the lead character Solomon Northup’s (Chiwetel Ejiofor) prospect. It’s a draining, although important, ordeal McQueen conducts through the combination of stellar performances and a brutal narrative honesty.

Solomon Northup is a free man living in the North with his wife and three children. He is a musician, esteemed by the community that knows him. Northup is invited by a group of traveling circus promoters to join their performance. After an evening of pleasantries, Northup wakes up in unfamiliar quarters with chains on his legs. Northup is brutally beaten and forced into a slave market in the South were he is priced for sale. Northup holds out hope to one day rejoin his family, being traded from owner to owner for 12 long and torturous years.

McQueen is a talented director who focuses on a straightforward narrative structure, free of technical exaggerations but instead aimed on telling the story from the perspective of his primary character. McQueen paces the film so effectively, moving throughout the transitions of ownership during Northup’s slavery effectively allowing time to properly examine slavery. This can be attributed to both the pragmatic narrative, which draws the viewer in almost immediately, but also to the simplistic though meticulous attention established by the photography. There are moments when the camera holds frame during close-ups allowing the expressions of the subject’s opportunity to display the varying emotions posed by the narrative. In one brutal scene Northup is attacked and hung but is given enough rope for his toes to barely touch the ground. The camera lingers on this disturbing scene while also showing the fearful compliancy of the other slaves who continue on their own never helping Northup. The narrative is handled pragmatically, an effective choice that keeps the attention on the proper focus of Northup and both the physical and psychological atrocities he encountered.

The performances are impressive. Ejiofor’s handling of Northup is both striking and restrained during his characters continued hope of survival and in the moments of disquieting desperation. Ejiofor’s performance anchors the film. Michael Fassbender plays a punishing plantation owner named Edwin Epps, a drunkard with a reputation for being able to break difficult slaves. Fassbender, who seems at any moment capable of losing control of the character, keeps Epps in rein with a consistent performance that never glorifies with overly showy or flamboyant traits, a feature that is as much accredited to McQueen’s direction.

“12 Years A Slave” serves as an important film for the depiction of slavery purely because of how the brutality of history is depicted unflinchingly. Happiness within this film is an artificial emotion, as Northup’s life has been forever ruined by his ordeal. McQueen has constructed an affecting film that depicts the inhumane torture of those forced into slavery but also an essential one that exhibits the shame of the nation that observed it.  

Monte’s Rating

5.00 out of 5.00

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