It should be no surprise to anyone whose seen a film that some carry messages. The messages can be morals, presented through symbolism or just thrown in your face.
There a lot of popular morals and themes in America but none more so than the evils of slavery, and for good reason. America was one of the places that retained the practice longest and has a large Black community, so it would make sense to try a put the most horrifying practice into film to relate to modern audiences the issues of slavery. Still, there have been some issues with films and their interpretations of the dehumanizing practice that last centuries. Could this Oscar forerunner finally fill the niche?
Let’s take a look 12 Years a Slave.
12 Years a Slave follows the tale of Solomon Northup, a freeman living in upstate New York who is suddenly kidnapped down South and sold as a slave. He spends 12 years in this situation before, by a stroke of pure luck, he is taken back to his family back north. The film details those long 12 years as he faces challenges, changes “masters,” and even watches as his fellow slaves receive numerous abuses.
This movie is absolutely brutal. It continues in the tradition of Roots in the sense of trying to depict the horrors of slavery. In opposition to last year’s Django Unchained, there is no romanticized revenge plot or stalwart dignity. 12 Years a Slave shows that there were no “good” slaver owners, that there was no dignified silence while being whipped, and a lack of consciousness about the violence. The films get across that slave were not viewed as people and how even the smallest indiscretion (real or perceived) could get you killed or worse. And yet, the subject demands to be treated with this level of seriousness and graphic detail. And when I say graphic detail, I mean you see welts blooming on a woman’s skin as she get whipped.
If everyone in this movie could get an Oscar for acting, then they probably would. Chiwetel Ejiofor gives a powerful performance which left the audience I saw it with completely stunned. There’s such a heartbreaking vulnerability and hope in this character that every twist brings forth complex emotions. I don’t why more people aren’t talking about Lupita Nyong’o performance as Patsy because she is a tour de force with pain, confusion, suffering and loss. If she doesn’t get nominated for something at the Oscars then I lose faith in the Academy.
On the other end of things, both Michael Fassbender and Sarah Paulson are amazing in their roles. Fassbender plays a paranoid overly-religious slave owner while Paulson plays his jealous wife. Fassbender is great but to be honest, Paulson’s casual, angry violence really steals it. She lobes a heavy glass whiskey server at a woman’s face like it was nothing. That in and of itself is enough to make a person take notice but her character’s actions only gets worse. Benedict Cumberbatch is all right, he doesn’t have much of a role and Pitt, of course, plays the good guy of the film because if course he did, he threw a whole lot of money in this movie. Still, Ejiofor is definitely the shining star of this film and I can’t wait to see what else he does.
On the technical side of things, the cinematography is excellent – clean colors, excellent lighting, great shots all around. The costumes are well made and period-appropriate, or so I’m told. The writing is soulful and crisp. The direction is fantastic, allowing for quiet moments right when we need it most. Steve McQueen has proven himself as a director, if he didn’t two years ago with Shame. There was one element I didn’t love: the pacing. It for me was a little off. 12 years go by in the film and yet it doesn’t feel like it — there are none of the familiar tricks to denote that any time has passed by so it feels like just a few short years rather than a whole decade and change.
12 Years a Slave is worth the watch of you can stomach the violence and horror of it all. It’s an emotionally deep and creatively stunning film which deserves to be praised for its artistry and honesty. It’s definitely a top contender for Best Film this year. See it while you can — you won’t regret it.
– Amazing acting.
– Great direction and cinematography.
– Well written.
– Pacing could have been better.