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12 Years a Slave – Steve McQueen’s Tour de Force
Official Description from 12yearsaslave.com
TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE is based on an incredible true story of one man’s fight for survival and freedom. In the pre-Civil War United States, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. Facing cruelty (personified by a malevolent slave owner, portrayed by Michael Fassbender), as well as unexpected kindnesses, Solomon struggles not only to stay alive, but to retain his dignity. In the twelfth year of his unforgettable odyssey, Solomon’s chance meeting with a Canadian abolitionist (Brad Pitt) will forever alter his life.
Tonight I had the pleasure of screening Steve McQueen’s new slavery biopic “12 Years a Slave.” I started following the production of this film back in the summer of 2012 when Benedict Cumberbatch was filming in Louisiana. It was fascinating to follow cast and crew reports of the sweltering heat and boggy conditions of filming in New Orleans in August.
I wasn’t familiar with Steve McQueen’s work at the time, but I was greatly intrigued by the heavy-hitting cast of Chiwetel Ejiofor, Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Paul Giamatti.
So it was with great anticipation that I attended a screening tonight.
First off, the score to this film is incredible. Hans Zimmer lended a familiar tune from Inception to support this film. To me, music can make or break a film. One issue I had with The Butler earlier this year was the lack of a sweeping, powerful score. 12 Years a Slave absolutely delivers with a score that pulses and leads the film in many ways.
Without spoiling any plot points, it’s safe to say this film is an absolute Oscar contender. Chiewetel Ejiofor powerfully embodies a man whose freedoms have been taken from him – a man who is constantly wrestling with decisions to speak out as a free man, or keep his head down as a slave. Ejiofor displays restraint, in moments where I would have reacted, had I been in his situation. His character, Solomon, is exposed to intense, dehumanizing situations that would test the heart of any man. Ejiofor does an incredible job – missing his family, striving for freedom, betraying those who betray him, and keeping his secret unknown, for fear of his life.
Brad Pitt and Benedict Cumberbatch shine as bright lights in a very dark place. Benedict’s gentleness and pure heart shines through as Solomon Northup’s only slave owner with a heart. Brad Pitt, who carries a think southern accent, is the only man in this film to stand up to Fassbender. It was great to see Brad, even in a small part, considering he played such a strong roll in producing, and in bringing the film to shoot on location in Louisiana.
I would have to say Michael Fassbender stretched himself the farthest in this role. He was angry, violent, unrepentant for his deeds, and completely self-indulgent boarding on masochistic. I cannot imagine how hard it must have been for him to step into the shoes of such a violent character.
Lupita Nyong’o is a breakout actress in this film. Her character takes the most abuse, as Fassbender’s slave sex object. At one point she asks Solomon (Ejiofor) to kill her to end her suffering. I get heavy hearted just thinking about her character. She begs Solomon to take her life, and at one point, I actually wished he would have. Nyong’o bears such vulnerability and femininity, even as she is being brutally beaten and abused.
This film is not for the faint of heart. The graphic nature of the violence in this film is comparable to The Passion of the Christ. I would not recommend it to anyone under 17 unless you have someone to talk you through it. Although I do think this is a film everyone should see. It strikes at the heart of a nation, who for a time, allowed the ungodly and unjust institution of slavery.
Upon Solomon’s abduction, I found myself asking, “why would these men go to the trouble of kidnapping a free black man, only to sell him into slavery? Why did they pick Solomon Northup?” But then the truth hit me: evil has no reason behind it’s actions. Evil steals, kills and destroys because it can, not because there is any logic to it.
Honestly, I am extremely proud of this film. They did not sugar coat a thing. They demonstrated the horrors and real-life situations of men and women who were considered property. McQueen wove together a narrative that is powerful and honest. But he did not overly use violence or show anything that did not add value to the film.
I think Steve McQueen should get an Oscar for Best Director, John Ridley for Best Adaptation, Chiwetel Ejiofor for Best Actor and Michael Fassbender for Best Supporting Actor. All of the elements of the film were superb. Editing, cinematography, the score – everything was sweeping, and beautiful, and sad. Bring the tissues when you see it 🙂
12 Years a Slave is currently in limited release in New York City and Los Angeles, and gets a national distribution November 1st. I highly recommend seeing it.
If you enjoyed the film, didn’t like it, or would like to know more, comment below or tweet me @Lauren_Gallaway.
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