12 Years A Slave Review

Posted 10 years ago by myetvmedia

Steve McQueen’s third film, the historical drama 12 Years A Slave is undoubtedly his most powerful yet (if you have seen Hunger and Shame you’ll know that is saying a lot). McQueen’s mastery as a director is on full display throughout this gripping movie that will shock and deeply disturb. Phenomenal filmmaking, beautiful cinematography and outstanding performances mark the retelling of this heartbreaking, true story, based on the autobiography of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor). 12 Years A Slave is guaranteed to clean house come Oscar time. The screenplay is written by John Ridley and stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Lupita Nyong.

The movie is based on the autobiography of Solomon Northup, ‘Twelve Years A Slave’ which was a bestselling book in 1853 and is set to a musical score by highly acclaimed composer Hans Zimmer (The Lion King, Gladiator, Dark Knight). The movie covers a period of 12 years from 1841 until 1853 during which Solomon a free, black American was abducted in Washington City by slave traders and forced into slavery. He was torn away from his family, brought to Louisiana, sold as a slave and forced to work as a slave on a cotton plantation. The film recreates the harrowing experiences of Solomon Northup. Chiwetel Ejiofor who portrays Solomon in the film, brings a power and dignity to the role that is not easily forgotten.

Through the powerful direction of Steve McQueen we are given a window into one of the darker periods in human history. A time both difficult to imagine and easy to forget without important reminders like this film. 12 Years a Slave assumes the task of delving into a past of deplorable human exploitation and cruelty that was not so long ago.

McQueen uses long shots of pastoral southern beauty as piercing juxtaposition to the atrocities so common place in pre-civil war America. One scene in particular is hauntingly effective: Solomon is about to be hanged. A dispute over a job escalates to violence with one of the Plantation hands, John, and as retribution for Solomon’s disrespect, John decides to lynch him. With the help of two other workers Solomon is strung up and hung from a tree when fortunately the plantation manager comes upon them and orders them to stop: Solomon is someone’s property, to murder him would be akin to stealing something of value. Thus, Mr. Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), is sent for to settle this dispute. While they await his arrival, Solomon is left dangling by his neck, struggling for his life as he desperately balances on his tiptoes, in the mud. In the background it is business as usual on the plantation, people come and go for what feels like hours, not a single person stopping to slacken the rope around Solomon’s neck. He splutters and gags for dear life while a serene soundtrack complacently plays in the background: the chirping of birds and crickets the only protest against this treatment. McQueen holds this frame for what feels like an interminable length, every moment of inaction more difficult to watch.

Scenes like these combine to make an arresting point: failure to act is as damming as participating in the crime itself. The film received a very emotional reception at the TIFF World Premiere and won the Toronto International Film Festival Blackberry People’s Choice Award for Best Picture.

Astrid Handling

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