“12 Years A Slave”
Written by: John Ridley, Solomon Northrup (novel)
Directed by: Steve McQueen
Starring: Chiwetel Ejifor, Lupita Nyong’O, Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt
Story: After being kidnapped and sold into slavery, Solomon Northrup spends twelve years trying to prove he is a free man from New York.
It seems impossible to know where to start when reviewing one of the most acclaimed movies of the year. ’12 Years A Slave’ has already received over fifteen notable awards and is hot tipped to take home the ‘Best Picture’ Oscar on Sunday night. The film has demanded so much attention, it seems unlikely that anyone would not enjoy it.
But alas, that is the curse of the ‘Best Picture’ nominee: quite often those films who win are not traditionally enjoyed by the wider commercial market.
The performances are certainly worthy of the attention they have been given. Chiwetel Ejifor is remarkable as Solomon Northrup, but is completely overshadowed by newcomer Lupita Nyong’O. Fassbender rounds out the notable performances. Not to be forgotten, though, is Paul Dano who makes the most of his screentime by offering a truly chilling portrayal as white supremacist Tibeats. Brad Pitt is also in this movie, but is neither relevant or memorable. His complete lack of chemistry even puts a dampener on the scenes in which he appears, somewhat stifling Ejifor in the process.
Having said this, 12 Years A Slave is not a film that is altogether enjoyable to watch. McQueen chooses to give us long shots, periods of silence and one could even feel that McQueen is solely trying to make his audience uncomfortable. Indeed, some of the most graphic scenes almost appear exaggerated or drawn out as if to try and drive his point home. Watching the film is awkward, tense, and a melancholic experience. By the two hour mark, one may even start to lose their sympathy for the Northrup character: he seems more concerned with the injustice of his own capture than with the situation of slavery in the US as a whole. This is more than a race issue, but Northrup distinguishes himself from all others int he film because he was ‘wealthy’. Less than a race issue, we now are faced with Northrup’s views on a class society. It would be interesting to see, as this film is integrated into school curriculum’s, how much this particular issue is developed.
Dealing with such an issue as slavery, something that continues to haunt the hearts and minds of both black and white Americans, there almost needs to be a certain sensitivity with which you present it. Watching 12 Years one may feel that McQueen has forgotten this in favor of trying to shock, startle, and upset his audiences more than any filmmaker has before. One might walk out of the cinema feeling angry at the injustices presented, but the true point of the film is ultimately lost.
While 12 Years A Slave is a good movie, with stunning landscapes and phenomenal performances, it leaves a bitter and sick feeling in the hearts and minds of audiences, making us feel like we were not entertained, but mocked.