Title – 12 Years a Slave (2013)
Director – Steve McQueen (Hunger)
Cast – Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Brad Pitt, Paul Dano
Plot – Based on the true life story of freeman Solomon Northup (Ejiofor) who upon being kidnapped is sold into a life of slavery and hard labour in the harsh lands of New Orleans. In this unforgiving land Solomon’s will to live will be tested by heavy drinking plantation owner Edwin Epps (Fassbender).
“I don’t want to survive. I want to live”
Review by Eddie on 4/02/2014
If we’re lucky a few times each year or perhaps merely once a year a film of immense grace and power will be released into our cinemas, a film that challenges us to watch when we want to turn away or challenges us to think about things we choose normally not to consider. This year (last year if you’re from pretty much anywhere other than Australia) that film is 12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen’s unflinching and uncompromising telling of the true life tale of Solomon Northup.
For a man that has now only made 3 feature length films it’s almost beyond comprehension that McQueen has made such a fully formed and complete film as he has with 12 Years a Slave. Every aspect of the movie seems to have been pondered upon, every scene played and edited to perfection and every move of McQueen’s camera capturing a moment that we the audience needs to see. A previous life as an artist has no doubt set McQueen in good stead to be able to paint a picture with his movies and having now been witness to his work here it’s hard to fathom another director being able to achieve the same amount of heart that we have with this film for in brutality we find scenes of much beauty, in heartache we find solace in scenes of grace. It’s a master-stroke by McQueen in his direction, yet a director with as much vision as he has shown here is nothing without his actors and that too is where the film equally shines.
Continuing his collaboration with now famed Irish actor Michael Fassbender, McQueen again draws out a fantastic fully committed embodiment from Fassbender as despicable yet sad soul plantation owner Edwin Epps, a drunk of a man who at any stage can turn viciously violent. It’s an award quality turn by Fassbender and a turn that goes hand in hand with the career defining turn of Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup. Having been around the industry for years just begging for a role worthy of his undeniable talents Ejiofor plays Northup with such care and understated soul it is again hard to fathom anyone else getting close to the work he does with the role. There are scenes throughout the movie that surely must of tested the spirit of the actor but he nails every single moment and a scene where nothing more than Ejiofor’s face is to be seen his eyes tell a thousand stories, a man contemplating what is to come. It’s a moment were you forget it’s an actor and truly believe right there standing is Solomon Northup himself. Other actors in the piece from the startling debut of Lupita Nyong’o through to seasoned veterans Paul Giamatti and Benedict Cumberbatch all produce quality turns much like other elements of the film such as Hans Zimmer’s understated yet perfect score, the production design, John Ridley’s thoughtful script right through to the atmospheric cinematography, all elements of the film scream quality.
McQueen has crafted a heartbreaking, touching and against all odds beautiful tale that while not entertainment in any stretch of the imagination is a film deserving to be seen by as many as possible, a film that comes along once in every while and produces no grandstanding or manipulation of emotions just presents the story as the story occurred. Come Oscar night it would be apt that upon presentation of the Best Picture McQueen and his impressive ensemble have their names read out to collect their just rewards.
5 sweaty brows out of 5