Movie Review: 12 Years a Slave (2013)

Steve McQueen has only directed three movies, and all three are some of the best movies released in the past decade. To follow up all the talk, acclaim, and controversy that surrounded Shame, McQueen tackles the true story of Solomon Northup. With McQueen you can expect that he won’t lightly tackle the real horrors that happened to Northup. The true accounts are rare of what Northup experience along with many other slaves considering that most who lived through slavery couldn’t read or write.

Summary: Solomon Northup is a free man living in the north playing the violin, and living with his wife and two children. He’s offered a job playing in Washington and takes the job. He travels with the two white men to D.C., but after arriving there he wakes up to find himself chained. He’s been kidnapped and is being taken to be sold back into slavery. Now Solomon is preparing to be sold to a slave owner while his family is back in the north unaware of his whereabouts. Even as he he sold back into slavery though he is hopeful he can somehow return home.

Acting: Well someone better get a nomination this year it better be someone from this movie. Most likely it will be Chiwetel Ejofor who portrays Solomon in this movie. He plays the part with patience and power throughout the entire movie though you can’t imagine how you couldn’t have given up in his circumstances yet. Michael Fassbender is another one of the main roles in the movie, Edwin Epps, who is a slave owner. He’s probably in one of his first roles as a guy who is intentionally for bad. He’s scary and a bit insane, and it shows just how diverse Fassbender can be. Benedict Cumberbatch appears early in the movie as Ford. Cumberbatch plays something a little different from his usual as well. He’s a kinder guy who is more swayed in what is the popular opinion instead of by his own heart in the movie. Another performance that is the strongest and the most memorable for me is Lupita Nyong’o’s performance as Patsey. I feel she should get at least a supporting actress nod for the saddest role in the movie. It resonates with you long after the movie is over more than any other character in the movie. Patsey shows just how dark and terrible slavery was in America in ways another movie hasn’t.

Filming: The filming is very simple, but there is the way it is shot and the way the score is woven in that adds to the dramatic storytelling of the movie. We transition in a mixture of flashbacks and the present that builds the story as it goes. Once you realize some of the bits at the beginning were flashbacks of how Solomon got to where he is then it moves the story a lot more. There is never a slow moment in this movie as each piece already feels short as it is. Every moment seems to have reason in telling his story. Hans Zimmer did the score for the movie and it is soft when it needs to be and powerful in other moments as well.

Plot: Not a lot of movies depicting slavery are based on novels from the people who lived in slavery. There might be a few, but I haven’t known of any. McQueen bringing Northup’s book to light on what he lived through does really bring to reality just how gruesome it was. It’s one thing to hear about it and read about it in history books, or even see it through fictional accounts in movie, which are disturbing enough, but to see what was a man’s life it is even more powerful and sad. The story might not end on a bad note, but there is just something that is somber about this movie that doesn’t leave you with a good feeling, and that is becaue what happened was real.

12 Years Slave is one of the best, if not the best, of this year. I would be shocked if it didn’t get a lot of attention this upcoming year when the awards make their rounds. It’s powerful, it’s moving, it’s sad, and it’s also real. Steve McQueen also just keeps hitting his movies with hard realities no matter what it is that his characters are being dealt with.

Rating 9 of 10.

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