Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free black man, a talented violin player, and a loving father and husband. He lives a simple life until, one day, he is kidnapped after two men offer him a job playing violin. From his kidnapping, he is sold into slavery (by a horrible Paul Giamatti) to the gentle and respectable Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch). But things go from bad to worse when sadistic rancher Tibeats (Paul Dano) starts to have it out for Northup, now called Platt, leaving Ford no choice but to sell him on again, despite the bond they have formed. This time Solomon ends up with brutal Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) and befriends Patsy (Lupita Nyong'o), a young slave girl hated by Epps' wife (Sarah Paulson) and sexually abused by Epps. Based on Northup's own memoirs, 12 Years a Slave is an unrelenting and horribly realistic portrayal of slavery.
|Swag: noun - The above photo.|
Ejiofor, who reportedly originally turned the role down, is on top form in 12 Years a Slave. His portrayal of a man who has his life destroyed so completely and so quickly is devastating and yet always hopeful. From his first signs of resistance - I don't want to survive. I want to live - all the way through his torturous ordeal in slavery, the viewer is forced to remain as strong as Solomon. Northup only breaks occasionally, normally trying to make the best of his surroundings, but when the emotions rise, Ejiofor's ability truly shines through. A master of both subtlety and the explicit. Matching him is the glorious Nyong'o. As Patsy, she shows she capable of an incredible range of performance, especially for her feature film debut. Unlike the bigger, more explicit characters like Fassbender's Epps, Dano's Tibeats, or even Ejiofor's Northup, Patsy is introduced as a quiet reserved girl around the greatest horrors in the world - rape, violence, even being disallowed to clean. Nyong's subtle pain, inner sorrow, and plain emptiness is heart wrenching, to say the least. Also of note is Fassbender's Epps. A truly horrific man that forces his slaves to dance for him and he takes what he wants, primarily Patsy. He holds nothing back, giving a true punch with his performance, sometimes literally.
|Epps just loved to show off his guns...|
Steve McQueen, of Shame and Hunger fame, is not known for his easy viewing. His films say something, and it is not nice. Sexual addiction, starvation, and now, slavery. Teaming up with John Ridley, McQueen brings something painfully real to the big screen. Northup's ordeal was a historical event and, even if details have been changed, that realism is constantly reminded you that this actually happened. McQueen brings it to life brutally, emphasising moments that are designed to make us, the viewer, uncomfortable. A horribly extended hanging scene whilst the normal ranch life continues in the background, a whipping scene where the camera does not cut for around four minutes, a stunned silence after a vase is thrown directly into a slave's face. These moments are engineered by McQueen and his team to highlight the horrible nature of human kind. It is not trying to guilt trip white Americans, it is not placing blame, it is simply demonstrating monsters as they are. It is story telling in its purest form: powerful and completely unforgiving.
A moving piece of cinema that tells the tale of hope and humanity. The way Steve McQueen shows the true horror of the slave trade is forceful but unbiased. It is simply truthful story telling. One of 2013's finest achievements in film.
Best Bit? Certainly the most memorable moments are those that force discomfort in the viewer. The whipping, the hanging. Such power and next to no dialogue needed.