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I attended the premiere of 12 Years a Slave at the Toronto
International Film Festival. Having no tickets, we had to wait close to
4 hours hoping they might let us in. I have to say it was definitely
worth the wait and it is hands down the best film I've seen at the
The film is based on the real story of Solomon Northup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man living in New York, who is abducted and sold into slavery in Louisiana. As the film begins, we are exposed to his talent as a musician (he plays the violin) and get a glimpse of the life he leads with his wife and two children. All is well until he meets two men who seem taken by his music and want to bring him along with them so he can play at various events. When Solomon wakes up in chains, his dark journey starts and the film never lets you take a break.
If you've seen McQueen's other works then you more or less know what kind of movie to expect (if you haven't then please stop reading and watch Hunger and Shame). 12 Years a Slave is dark and raw, it exposes everything, without sugarcoating it. It is definitely hard to watch; Several people walked out of the the theatre but in my opinion, it is not only worth watching but necessary. Films exploring themes of slavery are few and far in between and never has one been quite as exhaustive and effective as this one. Beautifully shot and edited, the film features moments of tension, heartbreak and a few laughs here and there. Steve McQueen has created another masterpiece.
Most actors get very little screen time. Paul Giamatti and Sarah Paulson are seen for a few minutes but both are great as usual. Benedict Cumberbatch plays a plantation owner, who recognizes Solomon's talent and tries to help him to a certain extent. Despite being a slaver, he is presented in the film as being a good man. Cumberbatch was very good, though outshined by far by Michael Fassbender. He goes through every emotion and gives it his everything. In my opinion, this is his best performance to date. Paul Dano gets a few minutes of screen time as well but makes incredible use of it. As Benedict's worker, he despises slaves and the songs he sings to Solomon makes an incredibly powerful scene, one of the most disturbing in the film. Lupita Nyong'o's first appearance in a feature film is stunning, as she plays a heart breaking young slave. I hope she has a long career ahead of her, she certainly has the talent for it. The true star is definitely Chiwetel Ejiofor. His performance as Solomon is stunning and unforgettable, I truly hope he wins the Oscar for it this year.
All in all, if you get a chance to see 12 Years a Slave, don't miss it. Not everyone will be able to stomach it but it's an outstanding film that deserves and needs to be seen.
Read More @ The Awards Circuit (http://www.awardscircuit.com)
One of the things that have been thrown around for months now is the notion that awards season voting bodies won't respond to it because it's too "difficult" to sit through. Let's define difficult, shall we? Is it difficult to see the first openly gay politician gunned down by his closeted colleague? Is it difficult to see a reformed convict put to death by our country for his crimes? Is it difficult to see a mother choose which one of her children dies during the Holocaust? I'd argue that these answers add up to a resounding yes. Yet, no one threw those phrases of "too difficult" around.
I've watched hundreds of films throughout my short 29-year history and I've seen some difficult cinema. Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List" can make anyone quiver in shame as it shows the despicable reality of the Holocaust. Paul Greengrass' "United 93", which is almost an emotional biopic of America's darkest hour, makes me want to crawl up into a ball and cry. And finally, Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ", one of the highest grossing films of all-time, shows the labor of our sins fleshed out into the beaten skin of an honest man. And still, no one threw these hyperbolic terms out saying, "it's too hard watch." Is it because this is an American tragedy, done by Americans? Is it the guilt of someone's ancestors manifesting it in your tear ducts? I can't answer that. Only the person who says it can. The structure of this country is built on the backs and blood of slaves. But slavery didn't just exist in America, it was everywhere. It was horrifying what occurred for over 200 years and believe it or not, still exists in some parts of the world TODAY.
Now when approaching the powerful film by McQueen and distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures, there is a resounding honesty that McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley inhabit. There are no tricks or gimmicks, no cheap takes on a side story or character that is put there for time filling or a life-lesson for Solomon to learn. Everything is genuine. Is the film heartbreaking? Oh my God yes. Did I cry for several minutes after the screening? Embarrassingly so. I was enamored the entire time, head to toe, moment to moment.
I have long admired the talent that's been evident in the works of Chiwetel Ejiofor. I've known he was capable of what he has accomplished as Solomon Northup and he hits it out of the park. He has the urgency, worry, and drive to get home to his family and executes every emotion flawlessly even when all hope seems to be lost. Where he shines incredibly are the small nuances that he takes as the story slows down, you notice aspects of Solomon that make him even more believable.
As Edwin Epps, Solomon's last owner, Michael Fassbender digs down deep into some evil territory. Acts as the "Amon Goeth" of our tale, he is exactly what you'd expect a person who believes this should be a way of life to behave. He's vile and strikes fear into not only the people he interacts with but with the viewers who watch. As Mrs. Epps, Sarah Paulson is just as wretched. Abusive, conniving, entitled, and I loved every second of her.
Mark my words; Lupita Nyong'o is the emotional epicenter of the entire film. The heartache, tears, and anger that will grow inside during the feature will have our beautiful "Patsey" at the core. She is the great find of our film year and will surely go on to more dynamic and passionate projects in the future. You're watching the birth of a star.
Hans Zimmer puts forth a very pronounced score, enriched with all the subtle ticks that strike the chords of tone. One thing that cannot be denied is the exquisite camera work of Sean Bobbit. Weaving through the parts of boat and then through the grassroots of a cotton field, he puts himself in the leagues of Roger Deakins and Seamus McGarvey as one of the most innovative and exciting DP's in the business. Especially following his work in "The Place Beyond the Pines" earlier this year. Simply marvelous.
Oscar chances, since I know many of you are wondering. Put the Oscar's in my hands, you have a dozen nominations reap for the taking. Best Picture, Director, Lead Actor, Supporting Actor, dual Supporting Actresses, Adapted Screenplay, Production Design, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, Original Score. There's also a strong and rich sound scope that is present. The sounds of nature as the slaves walk or as Solomon approaches his master's house is noticed. The big question is, can it win? I haven't seen everything yet so I cannot yet if it deserves it or not. I can say, if critics and audiences can get off this "difficult" watch nonsense and accept the cinematic endeavor as a look into our own history as told from a great auteur, there's no reason it can't top the night. I'm very aware that seeing this film along with Steve McQueen crowned by Oscar is nearly erasing 85 years of history in the Academy. Are they willing and ready to begin looking into new realms and allowing someone not necessarily in their inner circles to make a bold statement as McQueen and Ridley take in "12 Years a Slave?" I remain hopeful.
12 Years a Slave tells the true story of Solomon Northup, an educated
and free black man living in New York during the 1840's who gets
abducted, shipped to the south, and sold into slavery. It is a film
that stimulates at both an emotional level and an intellectual one.
Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Solomon Northup. He's been a "that guy" actor for sometime film-goers may know his face but not his name. After this film his name will be known. He gives, quite simply, the best performance from a leading actor since Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood. Because of his character's position as a slave he is usually unable to speak his mind unless he is prepared to be beaten. As a result Ejiofor is forced to utilize body language and his eyes, which become enormous pools of emotion to express himself to the audience. He's forced to endure terrible things, but he always maintains a certain dignity and nobility that makes his plight even more affecting. It's a performance of incredible subtlety that may leave you speechless and in complete awe.
Micheal Fassbender gives the best performance of his already extremely impressive career, even besting his previous high marks from the films Shame and Hunger (both directed by Steve McQueen, who also directed 12 Years a Slave). He plays Edwynn Epps, a vicious and demonic slaver and perhaps the most loathsome and disgusting character ever put on screen. If alive today, he'd likely be a drunk with severe anger management issues. By turns pathetic and terrifying, he embodies the ultimate nightmare of a deeply flawed man given absolute power over other human beings, and through that absolute power finds only madness, which drives him to deeper cruelty. He's always a menacing and malignant presence even when not on screen, as his slaves must always be aware and prepared for his seemingly random bouts of sadism.
Other actors give excellent performances as well. Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sarah Paulson, Alfre Woodard are all great in relatively small roles. But in this film of titans it's the one you've probably never heard of who perhaps stands above them all. In her first role in a feature film, Lupita Nyong'o, playing the pretty young slave Patsey - the object of Edwynn Epps demented and horrifying affections and the emotional epicenter of the entire picture, gives one of the most devastating performances I have ever seen. A portrait of unbearable sadness, her character is a mirror image of Solomon. While Solomon is a man who refuses to break and give up the dignity which he's known since birth, she is one who has long since been broken, and who never knew dignity in the first place. Her life is a living hell, forced to endure the "love" of Edwyn Epps and the brutal jealousy of his wife, she's trapped in a terrible triangle that she can't escape. Despite that, she retains a level of innocence that only heightens the tragedy of her character. It actually gets to the point where simply looking at this character might be enough to bring you to tears. It's a shattering performance.
Starting his career as a video artist before making full length films, Steve McQueen has an uncanny eye for imagery and contrast. He's also a very patient film maker, utilizing long, steady single shots to emphasize various things. In his prior films this has felt like a purely stylistic choice, here, it's a choice aimed directly at our heart. When the events on screen become their most horrifying and ugly is when his camera becomes the most unflinching. At times feeling perhaps like we're seeing out of the solemn eyes of the ghost of some murdered slave, watching in sorrow and rage. This is both McQueen's most accessible and artistically searing film yet.
There are also moments of stunning natural beauty that would make Terrence Malick proud. Alone, these shots would inspire wonder, but in the context of this film they make us feel more forlorn, as if the ugliness of man is encroaching on the natural beauty of the world.
Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about 12 Years a Slave is the way that it portrays slavery itself. Instead of taking the easy way out and limiting his exploration of the topic solely to the slaves, Steve McQueen increases the scope and we see how it affects those who profited by it. Take Benedict Cumberbatch's character. A seemingly decent and caring man who treats his slaves with some semblance of respect and kindness. He comes off as a relatively good man who is trapped within the powerful confines of the institution of slavery. In 12 Years a Slave, slavery is shown as a horrifying and destructive social construct that drains the humanity from everyone it touches, turning good men into moral quandaries, turning flawed men into monsters, and turning an entire race of people into livestock and tools.
To watch 12 Years a Slave is to be confronted with the grim reality of slavery in a way that's never been done before. To say this is the best film ever made about slavery feels trivial, as slavery is a subject in film that has been shown with naive romanticism from films like Gone With the Wind or silly exploitation from something like Django Unchained. Both of which serve to make the topic digestible. To watch 12 Years a Slave is to experience a level of despair and misery that can become overwhelming. It's a film of such ugliness, such blunt emotional trauma, that it may haunt you for hours if not days after seeing it. So why should you watch a film that could leave you reeling and devastated? Because, it's also one of the greatest cinematic achievements of our time.
chitchens fan 2 hours ago △ ▽
Well, to begin, I cannot remember the last time I could not get up at the end of a movie. I literally could not rise up from my seat. My body felt as though it were being weighed down by something considerably larger and heavier than myself... History had it's way with me( I am an African American woman). Thank you Mr. McQueen, Mr. Ejiofor, Ms. Nyong'o, Ms. Paulson and others, and yes, even Mr. Fassbender. I am not a film critic nor a movie hobbyist, although I try to stay current, but what I am is a human being trying to understand the various problems and issues within our country. This movie is a potent reminder of why we are where we are as a society today. How man can be so unflinchingly cruel to his fellow man, especially if he looks, speaks or behaves differently, I will never understand.
Considering the social and economic importance of slavery in America's
history, the scarcity of serious films depicting the daily life of
slaves in the Confederate States is significant - especially since the
after-effects from this shameful episode still echo through the
culture. '12 Years a Slave' is based upon the memoirs of Solomon
Northup, who endured a hellish period of enslavement in Louisiana,
which is backed up by legal records.
The story begins with him living with wife and children in upstate New York as a free man and respected member of his community. After being lured to Washington by a couple of con-artists who promised him work, he was subsequently drugged, locked in chains, viciously beaten, stripped of his identity and shipped to New Orleans to be sold into slavery. Over the next twelve years, he was owned by two men who treated him in contrasting ways. The first was a relatively civilized fellow, but the plantation's half-witted manager was threatened by Northup's superior intelligence. Their mutual dislike produced a dangerously volatile situation, and unwilling to lose his investment, Northup's owner re-sold him to a neighbor. This unbalanced individual regarded his slaves as property to be used for pleasure and profit, which caused them to live in perpetual fear that his capricious moods would flare into sadistic lust or rage at any moment.
It's noteworthy that a British director has become one of the few filmmakers to delve deeply into this subject, and the combination of John Ridley's powerful script and McQueen's directorial skills has inspired exceptional performances from the entire cast. Their dramatization of Northup's experiences is both riveting and uncomfortable to watch, as the film depicts the perverse nature of a society that permitted such a barbaric system. Hopefully it will reach a large US audience, who will learn how a privileged Southern elite cruelly exploited their fellow humans in order to acquire greater wealth for themselves.
One of our partners was invited to TIFF for the premiere of Life of
Crime so I was lucky to be able to tag along with him and watch these
two great films along with The Lunchbox. I didn't initially even think
of writing a review because I would hate to discuss something that the
majority of the public hasn't seen yet because public opinion would be
limited. But, seeing the reviews that some have published has pushed me
to write a review of my own.
In the beginning, the movie moves semi fast as far as getting into the central plot but not too fast that you don't get the opportunity to assess the characters. In fact, by the time Solomon (Ejiofor) is sold into slavery, in my opinion, his demeanor, education, and his family are established enough for you to invest enough emotion into him that by the end of the film you care enough about him to wonder if he and his family will ever be reunited.
I don't understand how someone can say that they were bored because they are desensitized by the beatings and tortures that African American slaves endured during that dark time. Odd analogy but, I cried at the end the movie Titanic not because I was unaware of the fact that the ship would sink and eventually be the demise of thousands of people but because the story telling grasped my attention and pulled at my heart strings. Same case with 12 Years. Yes, you know Solomon along with the other unfortunate souls will endure physical and emotional pain and you might be well familiar with the tools and methods they accomplished this with but it makes it no less shocking, sad, or important. I wonder if this person saw the same movie that I saw, if at all, because without spoiling too much of the movie, there is a torture scene in which the camera not only zooms into what's occurring but it also seems to last forever to the point where I was so uncomfortable that I wanted the scene to end. McQueen does this throughout this film (along with many of his other films), his scenes make you uncomfortable mostly because his camera lingers on scenes that are very hard to watch.
Surprisingly, the only time I got teary eyed was in a funeral scene where Ejiofor's acting shines and mostly with facial expressions (and some singing) you realize that he's finally succumbed to his situation versus how in the beginning he emotionally fought his sudden twist of fate. As far as the other actors, much has been said about Fassbander and Nyong'o's superior acting, rightly so, but I found myself being really impressed with Benedict Cumberbatch and Paul Dano's performances. Hopefully, we can all agree that Fassbander's character, Edwin Epps, is that of a tyrant and just an awful human being. Someone like that is easy to assess but Cumberbatch's William Ford is more complex. He's a slave owner yet he treats his slaves humanely, to an extent he cares about them but he definitely puts his and his families' interest above all, and although he doesn't partake in the beatings he sure doesn't interfere with the process. He makes you ask yourself if neutral people like him are good or bad for progress. I still don't know the answer to that. Paul Dano plays John Tibeats and his character is cruel and has horrible mood swings. The way he was played, I wondered if the person the character was based on had a mental disorder. He's uneducated (almost slow), not even respected within his peers, and overall just a loser. Not to make excuses for him but how could someone with those defects possibly be kind to another human being let alone a human who was considered inferior throughout that time. He too makes me question the hardships that other people, other than slaves, were going through during that time.
Overall, this film had a great narrative, strong performances from the entire cast, and I would definitely recommend this film. I do have two complaints, though. I too felt that the ending was a bit abrupt. In all fairness, I'm not sure what kind of closure I was expecting but I felt like much was left unsaid. My biggest gripe of all has to be the torture scene I mentioned above in which Patsey (Nyong'o) yells something to Solomon and it just had John Ridley's over the top style written all over it. According to Solomon Northup's biography this exchange did not happen so why did Ridley feel the need to add such a dramatic statement? What was the need to create sexual(?) tension between Patsey and Solomon's character? The same could be said about a speech Solomon gives in the film. That too was fiction and not realistic but I guess they did that to emphasize on their message on hope.
I just saw this at LFF. It is a brilliant piece of cinema. Clearly it's central theme is slavery, and the depravity human nature can so easily reach; but it has many other small moments that trigger thoughts about wider issues - the role of religion being one for example. It is violent, and in some respects awful to watch, but this is the story of Solomon Northup told truthfully. There is nothing saccharine about the way Steve McQueen presents this and that is what makes it so astonishing. You cry because what you witness is truly terrible, not because the violins are out and the director's tugging on your heart strings. All the acting is first rate, as is the score by Hans Zimmer. This really should be essential viewing for everyone old enough to understand it.
This film is a beautifully crafted and harrowing tale. It is, to me, an important film for all white people to see (I am a white person myself). The emotions portrayed in this film are those that all white people should absorb, and then reflect on the fact that oppression is still a strong, ugly force in our lives. I have seen Solomon's expressions in the faces of the young, black men I have known. We do not live in a "post-racial" society. I strongly encourage people to watch this film and reflect on your white privilege. I cannot imagine what it would be like to see this as a black person, and my only dissatisfaction with this film is that our society requires the pain and distress of people of color to educate white people.
so incredible.... the trailers don't do any justice to the film. it's
so powerful lingering unconventional it presents so many variables to
that system one might not consider. the situations they show linger and
you get the full effect of them too. you really get the sense that it
is based on an account. characters will appear and vanish. they will
not have little arcs and get give the audience satisfaction. it just is
what it is. nothing is edited to bits either. this film is the work of
and about the musical selection, good lord. there are long bouts of silence and parts where it just freaks you out. it was really effective and hypnotizing. I was surprised to see Hans Zimmerman did the music. this is far beyond anything I've heard from him. Not the usual inception foghorns or military hum drum. also a great deal of real folksongs incorporated into it. I love when films incorporate the actually used folksongs. period pieces should be filled with music. when there were no modern devices people would sing!
people can't say that this is unrealistic either as it's an actual account. glad McQueen brought it to the public eye and in such an untethered fashion. I'll probably watch this on repeat when it comes out. I'll have to check out McQueen's other films. haven't seen them yet for some reason
A random and encounter has led Solomon Northup from living freely in
New York to being kidnapped and sold into slavery in Louisiana, getting
handed over to various slave owners. There, Solomon witnesses numerous
acts of cruelty that no man should ever face.
As I stared at the movie screen with full dread, I was reeling back at certain scenes I had just witnessed. There were good films and television shows about slavery before, and they had various nuances at how to tackle slavery. This film is part of said resurgence of the sub- genre, hot on the heels of "Django Unchained" and "The Butler". But while the former relinquishes on Spaghetti Western entertainment more than attempting to address the issue in a political light as the latter, Steve McQueen's "12 Years a Slave" shuts those two up, and perhaps the entire sub-genre, for good. I doubt any future slavery-themed film will be as harrowing as this one was.
Steve McQueen is a fearless filmmaker, continuing his streak of unfiltered brutality within human depths. He frames his actors' faces in extreme close-up, the eyes staring into despair, the nostrils fuming in aggression. Naked flesh are shown not because of erotic content, but rather because of desperation and futility. Long takes and wide shots are not uncommon in his films, and here they showcase a plethora of fantastic scenes and performances that work to discomfort the viewer as much as possible. McQueen doesn't just allow the audience to tackle slavery, he guts the audience and leaves them for the consequences. This is an extremely uncomfortable film to watch. Beautifully shot locations are placeholders for unsettling sequences before and after, contemplated by Hans Zimmer's poignant and at times horrifying score. This all works to create a nightmarish time and place where hell walks on Earth.
Central to all of this is the performance of Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon. Ejiofor showcases that he is a natural force to be reckoned with in this film, after a decade of mostly supporting characters. He spaces out in despair as the camera lingers onto him for solid minutes, not a word spoken. Another sequence shows him mourning the death of a fellow worker, in which the singing of the surrounding group compels him and shakes him down to tears. These scenes follow earlier ones where he is a classy, free man in the upper states, mingling happily with the crowd and partaking in fanciful music sessions. It is a tour-de-force performance.
A fine ensemble of established and up-and-coming actors surround Ejiofor in his limelight - Paul Dano, Paul Giammati, Alfre Woodard, Sarah Paulson, even Brad Pitt and Benedict Cumberbatch, but none so ferociously as McQueen regular Michael Fassbender as the despicable, sadistic plantation owner Edwin Epps. So excellent and terrifying is Fassbender's portrayal of such a merciless and barbaric person, that the mere sight of him will either cause audience members unfamiliar to him to flinch.
I was left speechless as the credits rolled. A lesser film would have added tacked-on sentimentality/exaggeration and politically influenced claptrap. Not this one. This is a movie to watch as a reminder of how powerful the human spirit can endeavor, and how lucky all of us have grown past that dreadful time in history. The full effect of it has not been felt in movies before, until now.
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