“12 Years a Slave” Review

Arguably Brad Pitt’s best chance for an Oscar anytime soon (His company – Plan B Entertainment – produced the film), 12 Years a Slave is the third feature film from British artist Steve McQueen. With this movie, Shame (2011), and Hunger (2008), McQueen has become one of my favorite directors working today. Although he was not a writer for this film, it definitely has his distinct style. 12 Years a Slave is probably his most accessible feature, but that’s not to say it’s any less emotionally taxing. It’s not an easy watch, but 12 Years a Slave is one of the best – if not the best movie of this year.

Based on the memoirs of the same name, the story follows Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man from upstate New York, who is kidnapped and sold into slavery. The movie is less about its destination and more about the journey that takes place. The title in itself spoils the ending, yet the film is so engaging there’s no feeling of waiting for the inevitable.

The brilliance of the performances is one of the reasons that the film is as convincing and effective as it is. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s turn as Solomon Northup is one of the best of the year. The real scene-stealer, however, is Michael Fassbender as Solomon’s malicious, possibly mentally unstable, plantation owner. He was snubbed by the Academy in 2011 for Shame, but this performance will hopefully turn some heads. The entire ensemble is absolutely fabulous though; Newcomer Lupita Nyong’o was heart-wrenching as the constantly abused Patsey, Paul Dano (who is slowly turning into one of my favorite actors) is stunning as a despicable plantation manager, and Benedict Cumberbatch provides a touch of irony as Soloman’s (relatively) kind initial owner. Not to mention the rest of the supporting cast, boasting Paul Giamatti, Scoot McNairy, and Quvenzhané Wallis.

Stylistically similar to McQueen’s other films, 12 Years a Slave lingers on each shot, not anxious to change to a different angle. The cinematography captures the mood, dragging you into the experience. Hans Zimmer’s haunting score is the cherry on top. It’s subtle and subdued, but takes the movie to the next level.

A word of warning though, this is not a movie for the faint of heart. Nor is it one that will allow you to function normally for the rest of the day. It took me at least half an hour before I was ready to rejoin society. I will definitely be revisiting 12 Years a Slave in the future; I just don’t know when I’ll be ready. 10/10.


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