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John Wick (2014)
Very Solid Action Film With A Great Turn By An Awesome Cast
John Wick was a pleasant surprise when it showed up in trailer form a little over a month ago. Coming out of nowhere, this indie action pic with a fresh director and great cast wowed a lot of people, and for good reason. It boasted the promise of excellent action, with Keanu Reeves returning to form as the badass lead. And a badass he is. John Wick is the kind of action film we don't get these days, and the director clearly knows what he is doing in delivering a truly excellent action film.
First things first, John Wick isn't going to win any big awards. It doesn't really do anything new, even in terms of innovative action. None of the characters are fresh and the story isn't really that original. But none of that matters because it's so stylishly crafted, the acting, direction, and writing so smooth, and the world so well designed, that any action junkie can get behind this slick, heavily stylized, action packed romp. After a flashforward, the film details the current state of John Wick's life. His wife has passed away and he is obviously taking it very hard. After her death, he receives one last gift from his wife, a puppy to help him keep from being alone. But it isn't long before he loses both his prized car and his last precious gift from his wife. With this taken from him, we find Wick falling back into his old life of assassination and violence. See, John Wick was once part of a world of criminals, assassins, and killers. And, according to the primary antagonist, he was the one who was hired to kill the boogey man.
And it is here where the film picks up. Where those first quiet moments in the film were somewhat slow and dreary, from the moment John Wick becomes the victim of crime to the very end of the film, it's almost non-stop action. The biggest challenge the film had was setting up Keanu to meet the legend he is described in as the film. But I can completely reassure you that Keanu is a complete badass here. While he still is not the fine, domineering actor you might find in other recently christened killers like Liam Neeson, he has the skills necessary to prove that you don't mess with John Wick. Whether it's playing up the role of a superman, capable of tackling a younger, equally talented killer while suffering a severe injury, or taking on a dozen men, all armed, in a matter of a few minutes, Keanu doesn't need to rage, pull out a booming voice, or make speeches filled with slightly ambiguous threats. All he has to do is flip you over his back and put two in your head with ease. If you don't believe Keanu is the feared killer he's trumped up to be at first, you will by the end of the film.
What helps pull this off are the thankful decisions of first time directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski. As stuntmen, they clearly know their action. They eschew the typical, modern style of action of close ups and quick cuts in favor of nice, long medium and wide shots minus the quick cutting. This offers us practical action scenes and puts trust in the actors skills. Keanu has certainly proved himself capable physically, with his time spent in the Matrix and more recently Man of Tai Chi and Ronin 47. The directors allow him to use his skills to deliver action that never feels fake or trumped up. It's authentic and completely badass. Supporting him are an array of actors, including Wilem Defoe as an old friend in the business, Adrienne Palicki as a fellow assassin given an assignment to take John out, and Michael Nyquist and Alfie Allen as father and son gangsters, the latter of which who is the perpetrator of the crimes against Wick. Nyquist is especially good, a villain that isn't completely evil, and even a bit likable, who we're immediately introduced to as someone who doesn't necessarily want to do what he knows he has to do. He's entertaining in the role and makes for a criminal that, under different circumstances, might have actually been an ally to Wick.
Action films of the guns and martial arts variety have kind of gone by the wayside in the past few years, with few theatrical releases and most being VOD. But John Wick is a welcome addition to a legacy of great cinema action. For any action junkie, John Wick is an absolute must and I can only hope that this isn't the last time we'll see this Wick.
I have to admit, of all the Korean films I have seen over the years, The Attorney has to be one of the most relateable internationally. Through this film, I was constantly reminded of our own injustices within the American system, specifically during the times when the U.S. was going after supposed communists. But the film goes beyond, carrying a huge heart and an intense drama, well portrayed by it's actors. While it starts slow, it turns into a riveting and surprising court drama.
The focus is on Song Woo-seok, an attorney who, for the sake of his family, seeks to gain money and prosperity as fast as possible. In turn, however, he tries to keep out of the growing political movement of the times and focus on property and tax law. However, this changes when the son of a friend is arrested and tortured as a suspected communist. His attention turns to exposing the corrupt laws and officials responsible.
The film starts off slowly, with the first hour or so spent focused on Song's journey to building his practice, his motivations for doing so, and the troubles he faces as he does this. This beginning part is almost wholly different from the latter half of the film. Song is mostly carefree, with his budding, successful practice, the love of his family, and his growing relationships with those around him. It's both touching and humorous in some instances, and Song Kang-ho is incredibly likable as the ambitious, but big hearted Woo-seok. He's easily identifiable in his reluctance to engage in the changing political atmosphere and his ambitions to be successful for his family's sake. It would have been easy to turn him into a greedy, cold lawyer, but he is far from so. So, it is only that much more enjoyable to see him tackle such an important subject in the latter half of the film.
At the same time, it is quite riveting and you genuinely fear for the safety and security of Song as he takes on an entire justice system. While there are many surprises, it is ultimately pleasant to see Song take such a stand against an unjust system. It is at this point that the film becomes a courtroom drama, with cinematography that moves and edits that ramp up the pacing. There is genuine intrigue as to how this underdog will take on the system, and even if he can win. I won't spoil the surprises, but I will say that the film does have a few. The ending could be debated, but it is very fitting for this story and I was left with a smile. I can honestly say I was incredibly pleased with this film. Last year, Korea delivered New World, and it ended up being my favorite film of the year. This year, I had the pleasure of watching this film, and I can easily say this may very well end up as high, or nearly as high, on my list as New World. I can't recommend this film enough.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
I felt the same about the first film and had higher expectations of the sequel. With the villains involved, I had higher hopes for a better, more action packed sequel. And there were things I appreciated. But for the most part, this sequel suffered from some disappointing sequelitis, the same kinds of things we've seen in numerous other comic book flick sequels. Suffice to say, while I wasn't too disappointed, with lowered expectations, it is sad to see this film fall short. But let's talk about what's good first.
The best part of the film was easily the scenes between Garfield and Stone. Both actors are excellent in their roles and have fantastic chemistry together. When they share their scenes, their relationship is believable and it's something you can completely get behind. It's the one area of the film that Webb improves over the Raimi trilogy. There's also some decent action. The action involving Electro especially is great, with a fantastic display of special effects and an exciting sense of motion.
However, unfortunately, this is where a lot of the good stuff ends. Much of the rest of the film ranges from mediocre to bad. Pretty much anything involving Harry Osborne is cringe worthy, particularly when he starts losing his sanity. While the action involving Electro is excellent, everything about the character seems to lack depth and interest. His plight isn't the least bit interesting, and his motivations feel flimsy. While he may be sympathetic in a sense, it's a cheap kind of sympathy. He feels like a villain who is there merely to be a villain for Spider-man, with little in the way of actually being a meaningful character. Paul Giamatti makes two very brief appearances, and his character feels like little more than a nod to a future film that will probably, hopefully be much better.
The story itself isn't terribly interesting either. It's the same kind of inner conflict stuff we've seen in most other comic book films, but in particular, we've already crossed this territory. While Stone makes for a much better love interest as Gwen Stacy, it's still the same tried and true story of Peter Parker having to juggle his real life and his love for Gwen and his role as Spider-man and the danger that brings. I will give the film props for a twist at the end of the film that I think is a somewhat brave and unique thing to do in a comic book film, but it's one plot point in many other retreads that we've already seen. And the stuff involving Peter's parents still isn't all that interesting. It's a nice attempt to add changes to Peter's origin, but they're just not that interesting, which is too bad considering how much of Peter's inner struggle comes from that.
This outing of Spider-man feels much like the first: uninteresting villains, needless changes to the origin story, action that, while decent, fails to be really memorable. The biggest problem here is that it feels like the middle part of a bigger story. We've seen this with films like Iron Man 2, but there is no backing here with a larger cinematic universe. Instead, we just have to hope and wait for a better Spider-man movie to come.
There's a lot to love about Transcendence. Unfortunately, almost all of it is killed by a very poor script. The film is so full of holes and leaps in logic that it's hard to take any of it seriously or truly enjoy it. Character's that should be villains turn into saviors and characters that we expect to be allies turn into pariahs. There's no one to really root for here and the story telling seems to exist only to push certain ideas about technology and it's capabilities.
The story is fairly simple and can pretty much be seen in the trailers. Doctor Will Caster is a brilliant scientist working to push A.I. technology drastically. When he is fatally wounded with a time clock on his life, his partner in life, Evelyn, has the brilliant idea of transplanting his consciousness into a massive super computer. From there, we have a rapidly pushed story that leads to a bunch of silly, almost cool ideas about what computers could become capable of.
The first problem is evident in the first frame. We are immediately aware of the ending, which left a bad taste in my mouth. The mystery of how it is all going to end is immediately spoiled. So, all that's left is the how. And the how is almost completely preposterous. We're led to believe that the advancement of this super A.I. manages to grow to unbelievable potential in only a matter of a couple of years. Somehow, we're simply supposed to accept that everything we see is possible. It's a massive leap of logic and one that is too hard to digest. There's very little to suggest how any of it is possible, only simply that it is and that very smart people are capable of making it all so. We're also supposed to believe that the government never gets involved and that the antagonists know what's going on, despite getting rid of any technology that ties them to the world at large. You're simply expected to go along with it. If you're able to, then more power to you. I wasn't.
Much of the rest of the film is well done. The cinematography is as good as you would expect. The acting varies. Paul Bettany, Johnny Depp, and Rebecca Hall are all sufficient here. Morgan Freeman feels wasted as he has very little to do but get led around. But again, the entire thing suffers from a poor script and story. It's hard to give praise to something so completely let down by it's core, but there are glimmers of brilliance here. This being Wally Pfister's first film, it's not too surprising it falters. But with Nolan having his name attached and surely having guided the cinematographer who worked on most of his films, it's hard to believe that this managed to go through with such a faulty script. There are far too many holes and leaps in logic to ignore, which makes this a huge disappointment in my eyes.
Silicon Valley (2014)
Hilarious and Scathing
Silicon Valley is a TV show that was much talked about even before it's debut on HBO. With the Silicon Valley now finding a Hollywood-like atmosphere in the way it's viewed, the entertainment industry's focus on Silicon Valley and it's unique lifestyle and culture is somewhat new and has yet to find it's equilibrium of representation between the reality of the innovation happening there and the bizarre, comedy ammunition that lies in some of the more eccentric aspects. Mike Judge's Silicon Valley is a damn good start. It's witty and scathing, and takes an sarcastic approach to it with an outsider's eye. Of course, Mike Judge is no outsider, having worked in Palo Alto during the late 80's, and his disdain for it's people and culture shows.
What makes the series work is that Judge is able to focus on all the small, ridiculous things that have become such an icon of the culture. From CEO's innovators with Christ-like followings, to the idea that the industry is somehow spearheaded by college dropouts, Judge wastes not time and has no problem putting every Silicon Valley cliché/reality on a pedestal for people to laugh at. As a native, I can say that the show does exaggerate a lot of things, but it also gets a lot right. If you've seen Judge's other work, then you will quickly see how well this fits in. With Beavis and Butthead, we got a critique about the stupidity and waste of a generation, with King of the Hill, we got a look at Judge's insight into Texas culture and the ideologies of an American culture trying to cope with the changes of a modern world, and here we have a completely new sub-culture that Judges dives head first into.
The show most certainly has it's falls, but I was hard pressed to find them as I was too busy laughing most of the time throughout. I may have a skewed view of the show, with me observing this through a filter of the real Silicon Valley, in all it's great and weirdness. But in general, this bites down hard in the most hilarious way on a truly unique and fairly bizarre place in the world. And you don't even have to know the technobabble being spit out. I do think HBO has another winner here.
The Raid 2: Berandal (2014)
This Movie Will Blow Your Face Off
The first Raid remains one of my favorite action films of all time. It's a ruthless, brutal, and realistic approach to action films. So, it's hard to believe that they could top the film. And yet, they did, in almost every way. From a deeper story and plot, to more bone crunching, blood letting violence, everything here is bigger, better, and hits harder.
Picking up pretty much where the last one left off, our hero Rama is the last survivor of the original film and is wanted by a special, small law enforcement group attempting to out crooked cops. They want to use Rama to go undercover and get close to the head of the organized crime gangs in Jakarta in an effort to uncover names. What follows is a twisted plot of shifting alliances, as our hero navigates the underworld while punching, kicking, kneeing, and elbowing everything that gets in his way.
While the first film was confined to a single location with lots of closed in fights, this is all out, balls to the wall action that has little boundaries. And none of it is very pretty either. While stylized, this film continues the bone crunching, hard hitting, blood shedding violence of the first one. There are no soft punches here. There are some moments so hard hitting, you'll have expletives leaking out of your mouth. And once again, the true hero here is Gareth Evans, who is saving action films with a superior touch. His cinematography is fantastic, as is the editing which adds tension and suspense to every fight. And much like the first film, the action is greatly varied, but different enough from the first film that it never feels like we've seen it all before. Opening up the film to an entire city, we get a fantastic car chase scene and several changes of scenery. These are some of the most memorable action scenes captured on film, ones you will keep thinking about as you leave the theater.
But beyond this, a lot of other things have improved as well. The plot, while not all that original, does make strides in having some complexity and making Rama more sympathetic. For as brutal as the first film was, this film truly makes it seem like Rama isn't entirely safe. Yes, we believe he will win all his fights, but not without shedding some serious blood. It gets to the point that we're not entirely sure he'll survive in the end. But Rama is still a complete badass and every bit the action hero, but still coming off as more human than the average hero.
My one, minor gripe with the film is the pacing. The film is about an hour longer than the first one, with about as much action. This gives for a bit of a slow down. But again, that's a minor complaint. There's still more than enough fantastic action. Here's to hoping there's more Raid films in the future. This is, as far as I am concerned, a near perfect action film and I can't get enough. So bring on The Raid 3!
A Fantastic, Exciting Adventure
While I enjoyed the first Hobbit film, it did feel like it left a bit to be desired. This was no surprise, as everything that I loved about the book was in the second half. I knew that I would be waiting for all the good stuff with the second and third films. And sure enough, the second film delivers where the first film didn't quite excite as much as I had wanted. While it isn't perfect and does unnecessarily deviate a bit, this is easily better than the first film, giving us a bigger, bolder adventure and a more interesting Bilbo Baggins this time around.
Before I get to the good stuff, let me get my complaints out of the way. My biggest complaint are the unnecessary plot threads. There seems to be a big need for this series of films to tie into LotR, and I really don't understand why. A great deal of time is taken in this film to introduce us to things we already know the outcome of. We're, at points, taken away from the dwarfs and Bilbo to follow Gandalf as he goes off on his own adventure to uncover the growing evil of Sauron and his armies. Like the first film, it's completely unnecessary, but unlike that film, it's jarring. We're ripped from a fantastic adventure to a story that we don't really need to know and has no real relation to the dwarfs and their adventure. In fact, any time we're taken out of the company of the dwarfs, it almost feels cheap. The almost romance between Evangeline Lily's elf and the dwarf Kili feels something of the same, the whole lot of these stories coming off as filler in an effort to make time for three movies instead of just two. It feels like a stretch and brings a screeching halt to the momentum of the main story.
That said, the rest of the film is an excellent and expertly crafted adaptation. There is a definite sense of character growth, especially from Bilbo, who seems to struggle with the power of the ring and it's greed. We already know where this goes, but it is none the less fascinating considering who he was when we first met him. The dwarfs seem to almost take a back seat here. They are less prominent, with the exception of Thorin and Balin, who take front and center. That isn't to say they aren't entertaining, as they usually are every time they are on screen. Thorin is the real standout though, as he goes through similar changes as Bilbo, which lends them an interesting comparison in their mutual struggles. The actors are all excellent once again in their respective roles, with Freeman once again being the standout. Evangeline Lily is also a pleasant surprise in an original role as an elf created for the film. She adds a much needed feminine touch to an otherwise predominantly male cast. She proves herself to be a fine silver screen presence and hopefully this will net her some further film roles.
While the film does an excellent job of not simply being the middle film, something The Two Towers struggled with in the LotR trilogy, it is the action, set pieces, and effects which are the true stars. This may not be a LotR movie, but it's close. We almost immediately start out with a bang and it rarely lets up. Of course, much of what happens early on, as exciting as it may be, pales in comparison to it's explosive and lengthy climax. Smaug is quite possibly the best creation of any of the film, Hobbit or LotR. He is as awesome as you could have hoped for and Benedict Cumberbatch is excellent in the role. While effects have been applied to his voice to give it more boom, he does a fantastic job as the sneering, wise, and boastful dragon. Watching and listening to him face off against Bilbo is a delightful treat, and that is before we get to any fire breathing and chasing. What follows is a lengthy conclusion to the film that will excite and delight all. I have no qualms in saying that Smaug makes the entire film worth the admission of price. But don't go in expecting a solid conclusion. This is, after all, the second of a trilogy, so you can surely expect the film to leave you salivating for the next one.
While this new Hobbit film still doesn't reach LotR heights, it is superior to the previous film, especially when it comes to being an enjoyable adventure. It feels like it matters to the trilogy and delivers on being an epic. And I simply can't rave enough about Smaug. If you didn't enjoy the first film, you may find yourself feeling about the same here. But at least this one has a cool dragon.
A Surprisingly Good Movie That Surpasses It's Predecessor In Every Way
I wouldn't exactly call myself a fan of the books, but I did enjoy Hunger Games, despite it's tweenie appeal. I'm a sucker for these kinds of things. Maybe it's the Battle Royale and Lord of the Flies fan in me. I did enjoy the first movie. It was a very well done adaptation. However, having read the entire trilogy, I feared that adapting the rest of the material would result in something similar to the books: terrible follow ups. As someone who takes the content of these books and the things that themes and stories they are trying to tell just a bit more seriously than the target age group might, I groaned and moaned throughout the novels, especially the last one. However, the film has done something I didn't think it could do: not suck.
That's right, the movie does not suck. In fact, it's actually quite good. So good that it out does The Hunger Games in nearly every way, something that is quite the opposite of the novel. Where the original movie, while good, also came off feeling like it was feeding that tweenie audience it was aimed at, something about Catching Fire feels far more serious and far more mature. The film picks up right where we left off. Katniss and Peeta are on their victory tour, while the rest of the districts are showing signs of civil unrest due to Katniss defiance of The Capitol, that oppressive government regime that forces districts to send their children to die. To send a message to the districts that the capitol is still evil, they devise a new Hunger Games, this time forcing past victors back into the arena. Because what is a Hunger Games movie without the Hunger Games.
The first film, at times, felt like it was doing too much to introduce us into this world. Everything felt like some kind of obvious plot detail. While I enjoyed the film, I often felt disconnected to it and the issues it tried to present. There was so much focus on details of the world and the games, that the presentation of the world seemed to take a back seat. Lawrence was the major saving grace, though even she wasn't perfect. All of this has changed. With the games essentially taking a secondary part in the film, there is a stronger emotional connection. It helps that all the actors involved are not only a bigger part of the film but seem to be more comfortable and are much more convincing in their roles. Where the characters of Effie and Haymitch and even Gale seemed purpose driven, with little more than a role to fill, here they feel more fleshed out. They have a greater impact and there is more of an emotional connection, from Haymitch's clear frustration between his contempt for the Capitol and his attempts to keep Katniss and Peeta alive, to Effie's attempt to keep everyone as a team and sure signs that she is struggling with the facts of Katniss and Peeta once again thrown into turmoil.
The performances are the primary strength here. They do deliver on the emotion that is necessary to drive this story and don't feel like they are catering just to tweens, with the poorly written love triangle of the novel and the more trivial elements that are apart of the kind of writing that comes with novels aimed at tweens. Catching Fire feels like a serious movie with a serious story to tell. At it's heart is Jennifer Lawrence, who seems like a completely different person here. Since the original movie, as an actor, Lawrence has had several projects and has even won an Oscar. And so, it is no surprise that she feels like she is at an entirely different level. She seems more natural as Katniss and her acting is far more convincing. She comes off as someone who is not only conflicted, but scared. Even so, she remains strong and determined. Much like the first movie, as Katniss, she proves to be among the best of role models for young folk.
But beyond the performances, everything just feels elevated. The story has a better focus on the growing revolution that is clearly starting. The themes are more apparent and focused on. Everything feels less obvious and more natural. Gone are introductions to this world and it's elements, replaced by a futuristic vision carried purely by it's story and characters. Even the games are better, with more exciting action, better effects, and better character interaction, helped by a cast of new characters as fellow tributes.
I do seem to be gushing about the film, and it's not one I had expected to like nearly as much as I did, but I have to admit it: this was a very pleasant surprise. My fear now is that the next films won't live up to this sequel. But, I will give them more of the benefit of the doubt, considering how much this film blew me away as far as surpassing expectations. As I said in my review for the first film, fans will love this, and non-fans may also find themselves won over.
Man of Tai Chi (2013)
A Actionfest In The Tradition Of Martial Arts Films
Going into Man of Tai Chi, there's really only so much you can expect. The acting here is obviously not going to win anyone over and the story isn't anything special. But what is special is what we all know this movie is all about: the action. And it delivers in ways that most martial arts films don't these days.
The film follows a simple plot of Tiger Chen, a Tai Chi practitioner who seeks to find more application to the martial art than what he has learned. After seeing Tiger use Tai Chi during a championship tournament, Donaka Mark, the films chief villain and wealthy runner of underground fighting, seeks Chen out to fight for him. As Chen starts to fight, he also finds a blood lust rising from within.
Reeves is Reeves in the film and his acting is what you would expect. He's cheesy, revels in how bad he is, and gives some truth to just how wooden he can be. But he's still entertaining in a so-bad-it's-good kind of way. The other actors fare much better. Tiger Chen, playing the titular character named after himself, displays some acting talent, as well as major talent as a martial artist. Karen Mok, a fairly well known Hong Kong actress, plays a detective trying to track down Donaka, and does a decent job in her role. Thankfully, Reeves respects martial arts cinema and it's homeland enough to make this more of a Hong Kong action film than an American one. This could have easily been very Americanized, but it does mimic more of what we see come from Hong Kong, following a tradition of martial arts films from the mainland.
The real star of the film here is the action choreography and the cinematography. Reeves has done an excellent job of directing the action here and it all comes across as authentic. There is some obvious wire work here, but it's nothing distracting like the kind of wire work we see in Chinese operas. It's most authentic and well captured. And there is plenty of action to go around. The majority of the film is focused on the fighting and we get plenty of different styles here. Tai Chi as a focus is certainly a very interesting choice, as it is not inherently used for combative purposes. But it's well crafted here as a lethal martial arts and it gives the film a unique flavor that makes it interesting and entertaining. I will say it's a shame that the Bot and Dolly that Reeves had once intended to use wasn't actually used in this, but the cinematography still does an excellent job of not only leaving fights visible by avoiding too much quick cutting, but by also giving us decent frames that capture all the action instead of just a bunch of quick close ups that confuse the audience.
No one is going to write and rave about how wonderful this film is, but it sure is entertaining. The action is certainly very well done and I think the film fulfills it's purpose. I can wholeheartedly recommend Man of Tai Chi for anyone looking for great action.
12 Years a Slave (2013)
An Unflinching Look At Human Brutality Driven By Fantastic Performances
The slavery of blacks in the US is one of the darkest periods of the history of the country. And yet, it's easy to forget that it not only is such an ingrained part of US history, one that helped build it's foundations, but a piece of history that lasted a long period of time. In fact, the issue is less than 200 years old, and according to history, that's not a long time. So, a film like 12 Years is a deep reminder of not only how far we have come along, but of who we once were and who we can yet again become.
Based on the true story of Solomon Northup, we follow the man from the time he is kidnapped and forced into slavery. Based on the book of the same name, written by Northup himself, it's clear where the film eventually goes, but the journey is like little else in film that has dealt with the subject. No doubt this film will get much comparison to Tarantino's Django, which also dared to show slavery in a gloves off kind of way, but this is a film that deals with slavery in a much less entertaining or satisfactory fashion. Rather, the film is brutal and does not shy away from being ugly and emotionally charged. And while we may be quick to jump on this as being obvious and typical, it is anything but.
Northup's story is unique enough as it is. He's one of a few kidnapped, freed slaves to ever regain freedom, but he also manages to give a personal account. As Northup, Chiwetel Ejiofor is excellent. He handles the character with a great deal of emotional layer and considering the brutal and realistic nature of the film, it's hard to imagine many who could take on such a brave role. But even beyond this being just another film about slavery, McQueen goes the extra length to depict the film in such a fashion that we are almost forced to feel something. There's a scene about halfway through in which Northup is left roped up with only his tiptoes to keep him from hanging. During this scene, McQueen carries the image in a single shot for several minutes, what seems to stretch into an eternity, during which everything around Northup all but ignores him. Slaves go about their day, while the slave drivers don't budge an inch to help. As Ejiofor is obviously not choking here in real life, it is to his credit that we are convinced he is suffering for such an extended period of time. And the rest of the performance carries on as such.
The other performers are also quite good, but a number of them are relegated to small appearances. Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbacth, Paul Dano, and Brad Pitt all make brief appearances and are all excellent in their roles, but they are still brief and mostly one dimensional. Nothing new to a film about slavery. McQueen, however, manages to pump up the tension and emotion in the scenes by giving us an unfiltered look at slavery here. No punches are pulled. However, the runaway performance, by far, with the exception of Ejiofor, is Michael Fassbender, who plays Edwin Epps, a plantation owner who makes no qualms about driving his slaves and punishing them. He's cruel, and Fassbender truly makes him a monster of a man. Fassbender has gone on record for not wanting to push an Oscar nomination, and it's no wonder. Fassbender's Epps could be considered one of the great villains of the year for being such a despicable human being, but the fact that he is played to reality, as opposed to DiCaprio's more cartoonish Calvin Candy, makes him all the more frightening. When he engages with his slaves, you genuinely fear for their safety, and even their life.
Another star here is the cinematography. There are some truly beautiful shots here, which can only help to remind you of just how ugly the topic of the film is. I did talk a bit about the long shots here before, but to elaborate, there are moments when the camera is content to focus on something. The film certainly doesn't come off as speeding along, and it lends to being thoughtful, even in just focusing on the emotional state of the characters. There is an interesting shot that focuses on Northup's emotionally drained face, and you grasp a lot in that single shot. All in one, we witness a man who is driven by deep sorrow and pain, and yet he has had his hope and spirit driven from him. Though it's evident he wants to cry, it's almost as if he has been completely defeated.
12 Years truly is the film people say it is and may very well be one of the most important films on slavery ever created. It's depiction is raw and unflinching and there is little choice but to confront the ugliest humanity has to offer. Not an easy film to watch, nor entertaining, it is none the less important and well made. Worth watching simply for it's powerful performances and take on the subject at hand.