12 Years A Slave
Directed by Steve McQueen
Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o
Review by Jordan (read Eddie’s review here)
There are two types of Award winning films; those made and marketed seemingly with the sole intention of being bestowed such honours, and those being the work of important artists who simply wish to ply their craft without thought of industry recognition. 12 Years A Slave, Steve McQueen’s third feature film after the confronting Hunger (2008) and perhaps more-so Shame (2011), is certainly the latter – an exceptionally mounted, moving drama with stunningly captured scenery and performances of unwavering power.
From the moment in which our tragic hero Solomon Northup (played by an outstanding Chiwetel Ejiofor) is kidnapped and sold into slavery, no amount of kindness from redeemable characters such as respectable “slaver” Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) or Canadian carpenter Bass (Brad Pitt) can lighten the mood, as even when tears of happiness flow towards the film’s ending, despicable, true to life villains including slave trader Freeman (a chameleon-like Paul Giamatti), juvenile racist Tibeats (Paul Dano) and of course the formidable, atrocious drunkard Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender in his best-yet performance) have already ensured that no amount of good can compensate for the sheer volume of evil committed in this film and of course period of history.
The moments of restraint and careful framing are when McQueen best displays his articulated talents, but he juxtaposes them superbly here with the occasional shot of graphic violence, abuse and humiliation, meaning that as an audience you are never certain how long a scene may play out and must prepare yourself for the worst. This constant tension lasts the entire running time, and when punctured by shots of the flesh being torn off a fragile, malnourished young woman’s back in a still understated (not dramatized) fashion the feeling of helplessness becomes immense. Needless to say, Django Unchained (2012, Quentin Tarantino) took the easy exploitative route by having the slave protagonist revolt in a bevy of glorified bloodshed; in 12 Years a Slave we are allowed no such relief, and it is all the better for it.
Will this win Best Picture at the Academy Awards? And does it deserve to when in competition with other outstanding titles such as Alfonso Cuarón’s game-changing Gravity, Spike Jonze’s dark horse Her and the Matthew McConaughey showcase Dallas Buyers Club? Absolutely it should, and absolutely it does. Too many Best Picture winners of late have been lost to obscurity, forgotten about while other more deserving films have continued to gain momentum and notoriety (Argo winning in place of Les Miserables a clear example of this, as well as The Artist over The Tree of Life, Slumdog Millionaire over The Reader, Crash over Capote and Chicago over The Pianist… how Shakespeare in Love beat Life is Beautiful, Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line is also still beyond me, but that’s another article), and it’s as clear that this fate could never befall this third string in McQueen’s striking bow.
12 Years A Slave is at times a gruelling experience, but ultimately, for fans of cinema and literature itself, it’s an immensely rewarding one also.
4.5 pounds of cotton out of 5