12 Years a Slave, 2013, USA/UK
Director: Steve McQueen
Stars: Chiwetel Ejiofo, Michael Fassbender & Lupita Nyong'o
I was honestly a little cautious when I first heard about '12 Years a Slave', while I had no doubt that it would be a good film, if not a great one, I just questioned Steve McQueen's for releasing a film about slavery at this point in time in human history. While there is a sad reality that racism is still prevalent in our society, I would definitely say that it is at an all time low, I mean there is an African American president of the United States for crying out loud! While I am very aware that McQueen is a gifted filmmaker, I could have seen him using an adaption of Soloman Northup's novel as a vehicle for cynical revenge by way of Cinema that would create mass controversy. Luckily I was dead wrong, '12 Years a Slave' is not a cynical hate filled film, it is instead an emotional, powerful triumph of a film that portrays a dark time in human history, the power of resilience and dignity and the ever lasting pursuit for freedom.
Solomon Northup is a free man whom is abducted and sold into slavery. Thus begins a decade long odyssey of abuse and punishment, all the while never giving hope of seeing his family again.
Steve McQueen really is a remarkable fimmaker, he is fearless and will never resist staring into the darkness to get the results, he is obviously very passionate about this source material and portrays the events with a heart and dignity, never skimping on the monstrosities yet never really spreading blame. McQueen is simply focused on giving a realistic portrayal of a time where humanity was selective. It is most definitely a realistic feeling picture, there really is not a caricature to be found on screen, Screenwriter John Ridley's adaption of Northup's novel is a marvel, his dialogue is profound and relentless and even the smallest characters feel incredibly human. Another aspect of this film feeling so authentic is the incredible set design and costumes. This film truly feels like a product of a different time, immaculately detailed and throughout sets that make you feel like you have traveled through time. DP Sean Bobbitt's Cinematography is remarkable and further drives home the fact that there is beauty beneath the darkness
The themes of survival, dignity and slavery are all handled perfectly and with the utmost dedication. Solomon Northup's plight is one that we can all learn something from, many of us will never experience the hardships he did but many of us will need to utilize the same mindset he did, that of courage and determination. Northup is portrayed as a man who is encouraged to keep his intelligence and talents hidden, in fear of death, he is forced to become a slave yet he refuses to lose his dignity, no matter what obstacles come his way. Soloman, or Platts as he is referred to, is an incredible character that transfers brilliantly to film.
I took note of the various biblical reference throughout the film, and it seems like McQueen is making a statement about God being futile in slavery times and possibly overall. I felt like McQueen was saying that God is not responsible for negatives in life, nor is he responsible for the positives, it's people who are fully responsible for their actions, whether they lead to hardships or not. I found this to be a really powerful message and it made me wonder whether or not McQueen was an Atheist or not, can't find any evidence however.
The star studded cast oozes talent. Chiwetel Ejiofor is absolutely sublime in the lead role, his facial expressions, line delivery and strong will make this performance absolutely unforgettable. I can't say enough good things about Ejiofor, I've yet to see Joaquin Phoenix's performance in 'Her' but at this point I think Ejiofor deserves the Oscar, truly amazing! The supporting cast is an absolute dream too, I always love it when there is an Actor I genuinely like as a human being who can play a villain so detestable that you absolutely hate him/her, this is what Michael Fassbender does in this film. His character of Edwin Epps is a despicable monster of a man, a lunatic who has position of power and Fassbender plays him with rare type of unpredictability and edginess, a crazy good showing! Another marvel in the cast is Lupita Nyong'o, Incredible performance! She is playing such a difficult role and she plays it too absolute perfection, not only is she deserving of an Oscar nomination, she should win the damn thing! Benedict Cumberbatch excels as William Ford, a character that represents repressed humanity, he has remorse and heart in a time where those things were forbidden. Paul Dano is great as John Tibeats, a character that represents the opposite of Cumberbatch's, one who represents the clear inhumanity and cruelty of the time. Paul Giamatti pops up and is as great as usual, playing a remorseless bastard. Brad Pitt is also fantastic as Bass, a character fed up with the injustice and mistreatment, it's a small role that Pitt plays with passion and heart.
'12 Years a Slave' is harrowing, disturbing and relentless exploration of a dark time in human history. Thank you, Steve McQueen, for crafting such a powerful film that does not seek revenge but only too give audiences a perspective on the hardships of the time. One of 2013's finest Cinematic achievements, a must see!