Friday, October 25, 2013
Movie Review: 12 Years a Slave
12 Years a Slave has been receiving a lot of Oscar buzz, and you will find that it is rightfully deserved. In addition to its fantastic cast, the performances in the film are great, and the material is based on a true story: a book of the same title written by Solomon Northup, a free man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. This is a movie well worth seeing in the theater, and it should do very well come awards season.
Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) lives in New York with his wife and two young children. His wife departs for a few weeks each year to cook at a school, and she brings their children with them. When Solomon is offered a job playing violin at the circus during this time, he accepts; one night after a bit too much to drink, however, he awakens to find himself shackled in a remote underground bunker of sorts. He has been kidnapped by slave traders, and every time he protests that he is a free man, he gets beaten up; eventually, he accepts his new role, of "Platt," and doesn't tell his masters about his past identity. He gets shuttled from master to master, each one worse than the last, until one day he meets a white man who has been hired to work on the plantation (Brad Pitt), and finds that his luck may change.
I had not seen Chiwetel Ejiofor in any other movies before, but he does a great job as Solomon - a proud African-American man who cannot believe that he has been abducted into slavery. Some of the masters/slavers were played by Paul Dano and Michael Fassbender, as well as Paul Giamatti as a slave-auctioner, and Fassbender in particular gives a riveting performance. Giamatti and Pitt also have great performances here, as does Dano, but they do not get as much screen time as Fassbender's character, Master Epps. Benedict Cumberbatch plays a slaver that's a little kinder than the others, although there is one scene that undermines this and is very uncomfortable to watch, in which Dano tries to hang Northup; even though another employee intervenes, no one cuts Northup down, so he has to stand on his toes for hours and hours in order not to choke to death. (when it's dark out, Cumberbatch's character finally comes out of the house to cut him down)
The women in this film are not to be overlooked as well: Sarah Paulson as Fassbender's wife, a cruel plantation mistress who very much dislikes that her husband has a "thing" for one of the slaves; Alfre Woodard, as a black woman who is treated white; and Quvenzhane Wallis, whom I didn't even recognize, as Northup's daughter near the beginning of the movie. One of the finest performances may be given by Lupita Nyong'o as Patsey, the slave whom Fassbender has taken a liking to, part of the reason being that she picks 500+ pounds of cotton every day, while most of the men picked 150-200 pounds.
Yes, see this movie, and see it in the theater. It might be one of the most graphic films about this time period that I have ever watched, and because of that, some scenes are uncomfortable to view, including the hanging scene I mentioned above, among others. It's this ability and the way the film makes you feel about it that makes it a great movie, though, and I would not be surprised if many of the actors in it receive Oscar nominations, as well as the movie itself.
12 Years a Slave is in theaters today, October 25th, and is rated R with a runtime of 133 minutes. 4.5 stars out of 5.