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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.
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Director Steve McQueen has gathered a talented cast, a compelling plot
idea, and a wonderful cinematographer and then snuffed the life from
them with his clinical, detached directing style that robs what should
be the most affecting movie of the year and turns it into a plodding,
emotionless, historical biopic.
Despite the valiant efforts of Chiwetel Ejiofor and especially newcomer Lupta Nyong'o, this drama about a musician who is duped, drugged and sold into slavery never manages to find an emotional chord.
Like last year's Oscar-bait, "Les Miserables," the film is often told in long, steady pan shots or a continuous array of distracting close-ups of actors filled with angst or anger. And the film finds no rhythm in its editing to make these extremes work. Even the most harrowing scenes in "12 Years," and there a plenty of them to choose from, lack dramatic tension. One may as well be watching an accident filmed on a surveillance camera on the local news, because that's how detached McQueen's film style is (which also killed his over-praised "Shame," for me as well.)
Some have likened "12 Years a Slave" to "Schindler's List," but for emotional wallop, there is no comparison. "Schindler's List" is in every way, from script to score, the vastly superior movie: not only shocking but truly emotional and with actual drama.
John Ridley's screenplay has a few fine dynamics, but quite frankly in the end all the characters in the film end up being (literally) too black or white. Even the few characters (like Benedict Cumberbatch's Ford or Garrett Dillahunt's Armsby) who seem to have shades of gray, of course turn out to be turn-coats. Michael Fassbender and Sarah Paulson get two roles that feature them being evil incarnate, to the point you expect Fassbender to twirl his mustache at times. But again, any kind of shading the actors may have tried to play gets lost with McQueen's endless habit of sticking the camera repeatedly into the actor's faces.
"12 Years" is by no means an awful movie, but I think hype surrounding it in the press will lead to disappointment in movie goers who are expecting an amazing visceral tale, and are deceived into getting a stagnant and clinical examination of some of the darkest days of American history. Members of the audience I saw the movie with began talking half-way through and some people were overheard saying, "How can they make this subject so dull?" as they headed for the exit.
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Once again Hollywood waves its sanctimonious wand over history with
this glossy movie about slavery in the United States. Like a
self-righteous teetotaler telling off an alcoholic, it is a
sentimental, holier-than-thou piece that challenges you to criticize it
or 'you're a racist too'. Following in the footsteps of Django it uses
the excuse of history and a worthy theme to justify gratuitous scenes
of violence. The film begins in the home of the central character,
Solomon Northop, a free black man, who lives a genteel life with his
family in New York. The director is clearly eager to get to the gory
bits though, and within the first ten minutes Solomon has been
kidnapped, enslaved, and the audience is cringing under a close up of
his contorted face during a twenty minute whipping scene; the first of
many to come.
The film continues in this vein, as we follow Solomon's journey through an array of increasingly evil slave-owners. There is a segregation of personality in the film, with most of the black characters being good and moral and the white ones evil. Surely it is as patronizing and insulting to assume personality is dependent on colour as it is politically correct. At least the same cannot be said of gender, the white women are as evil as their male counterparts. However no film about slavery is complete without our token good white guy, and Brad Pitts rises to the occasion, strolling in bearded and ready to play, once again, the hero.
One does wonder why Solomon doesn't send a letter under his 'mistress'name on one of his frequent forays to the shop. (Of course, his one attempt to run away is thwarted when after two steps he stumbles on a lynching scene). Perhaps the point the director is trying to make is that Solomon is too broken and scared to do this. He is too proud, however, to pick the cotton quota demanded by the sadistic slave-owner. A necessary contradiction perhaps, as this allows more whipping scenes as he is punished daily.
Or why, instead of trying and failing to write a letter with a blunt bamboo stick and watery juice, he doesn't simply use the candle end and stain the paper instead. But it is not a film for the details. Nor the historical overview.
It is two hours of increasing brutality, culminating with a horrendous scene where one girl is whipped until her flesh is exposed. Instead of taking one of the many examples of modern day slavery however, which could leave people feeling guilty at inaction, it is set far enough in the past that it allows the audience to do their cinema time, and leave feeling as worthy and sanctimonious as the director.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Solomon Northup suffered many degradations after being unlawfully
forced into slavery in the American Deep South during the 1840s and
50s. He contributed to a ghost written book detailing his tragic
experiences. This movie is based on that book.
The film is relentless in its depiction of the despicable white men and women that Soloman (renamed Platt Hamilton by his new 'owners') encounters as a slave. There is absolutely no let up. This does a disservice to Mr Northup's account of his tale. By his own account, William Ford was a decent man, though a product of the time he lived in, and his background. He was not portrayed as such in the movie - I'm guessing because this did not fit the screenwriter/directors literal black and white vision of his tribulations. Thelma and Louise suffered from the same type of problem, in it's depiction of 'all men are bastards' proclamation.
I got bored after a half hour or so. Which should not have happened. It's a terrible story, filled with deeply tragic events. But I found myself, moving from... Jeez, that's terrible. The poor man.....to Oh God love her. That's unforgivable.... to I am so glad I was not born black in America during slavery... to OK, I get it. There weren't many sympathetic white people... to Sheesh, was EVERY white person SO irredeemably vicious? to Alright, ALREADY...I get it..White people treated black people worse than animals!! to Oh FFS, how was this written? With crayons? I also found myself thinking of Alex Haley's Roots. This told a not dissimilar story of enforced slavery on black people in America. But there was dark and light in the story. You rooted for the characters. You understood that the black slaves were quite often better people, all round, than their white owners. But you weren't beaten over the head with that thought.
12 Years's depiction of Salomon and his companions existence did not let up for one second. I don't mean to underplay the hardships that they endured, which were terrible. But the relentless depiction of all of the black people as nothing other than victims reduced them to caricature.
Just like a good horror movie will have light moments, which both relieve the tension and then make the horror more shocking, it would, for me, have been better served to show moments of light relief which were then snatched away by, for example, the loathsome Edwin Epps. In this way, we can better identify with Salomon's plight. But the incessant misery becomes almost expected after numerous representations, to the point where it ceases to shock. And that's what's wrong with the movie, for me. Something has gone seriously wrong when the depiction of merciless hardships by fellow human beings becomes boring. And I was bored. Not helped by too many lingering closeups, some extending to thirty seconds. The director is obviously a fan of Kurosowa.
The actors were all excellent, especially the lead character. It looked beautiful. And I will read the book now, where before I hadn't heard of it. But the movie didn't work for me. A good story badly told.
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 review may contain spoilers ***
I can go on and on about how disappointing this movie really is, I am
very upset I spent a full 2 hours and 14 minutes watching this
overdrawn slavery documentary. I will start by saying I only gave this
movie an overall rating of a 2 because of the acting, it would be a 1
without it, and would be a 3 if Brad Pitt didn't ruin it with his
Inglorious Bastards accent(he honestly cant change it? and has to be
the hero in a movie he produced, ridiculous).
So this movie is clearly just another slavery movie showing how bad slaves were mistreated, as if everyone doesn't already know. Yes you feel bad for Solomon throughout the movie but who cares, he had his freedom and then got it back!!! what about all the other slaves who suffered an entire lifetime, from birth until death, no, instead lets focus on one man because he wrote a book about his struggles. The director, Steve McQueen is in fact a Drama Queen. Seriously did we need that sad music as if we were watching the Titanic sink again. More than half of the movie are scenes of someones face(usually Solomons)With his glossy eyes and depressing music playing.
I do not recommend this movie to anyone who has already learned or heard about slavery, yes it was wrong, yes it was brutal. But most everyone already knows that. It seems almost as if this movie was created to rile people up and again create hate, especially in the minds of younger viewers.
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