Review: 12 Years a Slave


Director:Steve McQueen

Cast:Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong'o, Sarah Paulson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt

Running Time:134.00


Now, this is a story all about how a free black man's life turned upside down. And I'd like to take a minute, just sit right there, I'll tell you if 12 Years a Slave should smell some Oscars in the air. Based on the memoir of the same name by Solomon Northup, it recounts his tragic kidnapping from a seemingly pleasant life in New York to a shady sale into slavery during the pre-Civil War era.

British director Steve McQueen (not to be confused with the late American action star) aims to give an unadulterated look at slavery in America while staying close to the first-hand account of Northup's experiences.  Movies with ultra-violent scenes (and this film has some) always cause some sort of uproar, and the debate of "Should the audience witness this?" will definitely be here. But hey, I'm not a historian, nor am I the movie morality and ethics police. It's up to you to buy the ticket.

Regardless, it's a well-crafted movie. If you've seen Hunger or Shame, the other works by McQueen, then you're well aware of his allure for long takes that intend to make life-like scenes. You'll either find it cinematically compelling or unnecessarily self-aware in cinematic pretension. What's inarguable: for a movie about a grimy subject matter, it's handsomely shot.

Without a doubt, this film is littered with outstanding performances from its cast. It may be the finest acting you'll see all year.  Chiwetel Ejiofor (Pronounced Chew-i-tell Edge-i-oh-for) has been getting massive critical acclaim for his portrayal as Northup. At first, his performance appeared overrated to me. I could clearly see the talent of this man's nuanced abilities on screen, but I didn't think I saw the best performance of the year. It's like he played it in an understated way"”to a fault! But it was a tone I now feel (after some thought) was right for his character, right for this film, and the fact that his acting doesn't draw the attention of "Hey, look at me! I'm acting!" speaks volumes on how effective Ejiofor really is.

Michael Fassbender will continue to turn heads with his performance as a wayward slave owner. I expect Ejiofor and Fassbender to lock up Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor nominations, and I believe they have the stuff to win it all. Also, be on the lookout for Lupita Nyong'o. Her work as Patsey, the vulnerable slave mistress, may become a career breakthrough.

I don't have many issues with this film. There are a couple of scenes where the dialogue seems overly speechified, and Brad Pitt's unintentional but poor JFK-like accent is distracting. Yet this tale will make many folks weep, but it didn't make me. Solomon Northup wants home, but I don't believe the story relishes those moments the way it relishes his immersion of life as a slave. When I walked out of this movie, I smelled the stench of potential Oscar glory. But this may be the film that'll have 10-plus nominations and come away with no wins, but when we look back years later, it may be seen as one of the preeminent cinematic pieces from this decade.


About Joe Kotisso


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