12 Years a Slave

Director: Steve McQueen

Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Sarah Paulson, Paul Dano

Rating: R (violence/cruelty, some nudity and brief sexuality)

In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery.

 

12 Years a Slave

By Cole Schneider

Generally, 5 star films have very little wrong with them. With Steve McQueen’s (Hunger, Shame) 12 Years a Slave, there are indeed problems, but the successful elements of the film are overpowering. The film documents the life of the free black man Solomon Northrup played by Chiwetel Ejiofor (Children of Men, American Gangster) who is deceived and sold into slavery in pre-Civil War America. From there, we get a brutal and unrelenting tour of southern slave treatment and the affect it has on those involved.

It is not a mass-scale political or ethical message, but a deeply personal story which mirrors and gives weight to the larger moral failures of white America in a dark time. Few films ever made have teamed such emotionally raw acting prowess with such emotionally disturbing direction. Both of which are anything but manipulative, rather they detach themselves emotionally. The effect is itself anything but detachment. The viewer is forced to sit through incredible brutality and witness unspeakable evil. What is our response?

Sure to garner several Oscar nominations, I would be surprised if it didn’t win a few including Best Picture. Simply, this is a film that is painful to watch and difficult to sit through, but that’s the point. It’s a American history that we’d like to gloss over, hoping that an acknowledgement is enough. 12 Years a Slave makes that history more visceral and more disconcerting–a small but effective peek into the atrocity of slavery and the dark potential of humankind.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

 

12 Years a Slave

By Matt Greene

This is a study of all parts of humanity, the horrifying and the triumphant, told through the inhumanity of American slavery.  Its poetic filmmaking, told through the characters emotions and impeccable attention to detail, not a single frame of digital celluloid wasted, each shot a perfectly framed heart-wrenching photo. While some consider it slow and it will inescapably sit heavy on its viewer’s minds, “12 Years” is the most personal, beautiful and accurate portrait of slavery in film history.

This is the true story of Solomon Northup (Ejiofor), a free man who was captured and sold into slavery in 1841. It covers the entirety of his 12 year slave-life, yet never struggles with this epic scope, bringing clarity to the characters and their motives. We meet many people along Solomon’s path, each presenting the varied and confused relationships that existed between slaves and slave-owners. Pitt is a perfect wise old sage. Giamatti, Dano and Fassbender are revelatory and terrifying. Ejiofor brings literal chills to his performance, leaving us feeling bound with Northup. Most importantly, the film refuses to make any of these characters caricatures. We are forced to sympathize, or at least understand, all characters and their actions.

This is not a fun movie. It’s probably not a movie people will want to re-watch. The bigotry this film reminds us of is almost otherworldly, and McQueen has no interest in making us comfortable with it; he intends to poke and prod at our sense of humanity and succeeds at every jab. However, this movie isn’t simply “homework”. It’s essential film viewing.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

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