12 Years a Slave (2013) Poster

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10/10
Slavery is an evil that should befall none
BackFire8325 October 2013
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.
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10/10
And the Oscar goes to...
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.
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8/10
Roll Jordan Roll
dvc515918 October 2013
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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4/10
Didn't engage me.
iamchrisallan19 January 2014
Warning: Spoilers
12 Years A Slave is nominated for all the awards and talked about with huge praise. Well sorry, but having just seen it, I have to disagree. It's 2hrs 13mins of hardship.

We have seen powerful films in the past that have dealt with injustice and suffering, films like Schindler's List, The Color Purple, The Killing Fields etc., but all these have managed to get across the horror and suffering whilst keeping me engaged. Unfortunately, 12 Years was just suffering.

I felt the film really dragged. Much has been written about how Steve McQueen is very brave to hold shots for a long time. The film is littered with shots that linger for an age while little or nothing happens and I say that if you notice that a shot is long then it's too long and doesn't work. Surely if this was a good thing you wouldn't notice it. I noticed it, and noticed it and noticed it.

I was so pleased when Brad Pitt showed up, not just because he is always good to watch but his role is that of a saviour and believe me, at that point the film needed a saviour. He has a line that sums up the film "Yours is an amazing story but not one point of it is good".

The final scene really killed it for me. This man has been away 12 years and when he meets his family does he run crying into their arms? No. Does he whoop, laugh and shout with joy? No. He sadly stands and meekly asks their forgiveness for his shabby appearance. Arghhhhh!

I cry at movies. I am an embarrassment as I cry that easily. Guess what? Not a tear. For a movie that deals with the horror of slavery that's a terrible thing.
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10/10
Another masterpiece from McQueen
LetwitJr9 September 2013
Warning: 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 festival.

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.
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6/10
Acting cannot save a soulless "Slave"
peibeck14 November 2013
Warning: 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.
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10/10
McQueen's epic is beautiful and tragic anchored by sensational performances...
ClaytonDavis14 September 2013
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.
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1/10
The Ancient Art Of....Staring?
zquintofan30 January 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Let me start off by saying that I like a good movie based on a true story like Schindler's List, The Butler, A Beautiful Mind, We Bought A Zoo, etc., etc. I'm also fully aware that not all events will be entirely factual so when I went into this movie I wasn't going in expecting accuracy in any form. What I did go in expecting was a good performance by great actors and I must say the acting was fantastic, but unfortunately the rest of the film was a complete train wreck. I felt it had potential at first and then that feeling quickly dissipated after watching the first beating commence and continued to diminish after seeing the attempted hanging where he walked around on his toes for at least a good twenty to thirty seconds and we had to sit and watch. I didn't think it was possible for the movie to get more boring but then they threw in yet another thirty second scene where we all proceeded to stare at the main character's face while he sat idle, occasionally moving his head from side to side. I wanted to feel emotion for these poor characters but every emotion that I had was quickly ruined by incredibly long, drawn out, and unnecessary scenes. Not only did I have to sit through the agonizing, stretched out scenes but whenever there was about to be a significant lapse of time within the main character's life they'd add in a bonus five to seven seconds where we stared at a bunch of trees. I'd like to say that I was moved by the movie or felt some sort of enjoyment in watching it but in truth the only touching moment I truly had was at the end of the film when I realized it was FINALLY over. I'd liken it's boringness to The Fifth Estate but honestly it was far worse. My advice to you would be to ignore the plethora of ten star reviews and think twice before you decide to pick it up for movie rental once it finally comes out on DVD.
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2/10
Empty and hypocritical
lifeingr23 February 2014
Warning: Spoilers
I was shocked with this film. I ended up wondering what on earth the director had in mind when he was making the film? The sad thing is that the subject of the film is extremely interesting but the director lost all chances of making this a great film.

Slavery in America is a huge issue indeed and I do understand that the Caucasian people in the US still try to deal with the issue. And most of them feel guilt. It is more or less how most Germans feel for the atrocities that Hitler has done. BUT someone expects that a film on slavery from an acclaimed director will either go into the core of the problem and prompt you to learn and understand things or will present a human story in a way that can create a case for the issue.

This film is doing nothing. It wastes 134 minutes to tell a story that could be told in no more than 15 minutes. When you have a 15 minutes storytelling then you need either to focus on building a characters' film or to insert in the storytelling questions that the viewer should consider. But instead of this the film is wasting all the good actors in an endless cycle of the same idea: "what cruelty humans could cause to humans"!. But we DO KNOW this and we've seen it many times. Please make a point! The most hypocritical scene of the film is the Patsey's whip. Until that scene the film was boring, with this scene it became hypocritical because at that point I think that the director thought: "I can not do a film about slavery without showing a cruel scene; I've forgotten to do this so far, so I do it now"! I learn nothing from the film and I didn't entertain myself at all. I am wondering why all cinema critics have given such victorious reviews. I am sorry to say that I think that the film tries to capitalize on the "white people's guilty" and the director has blackmailed the audience by saying: "If you do not like it the film then you are just like the bad whites that they have done these things to the slaves". I am sorry Mr. director, this is not the case, YOU have exploited the issue of slavery to put money in your pocket. You have succeeded and congratulations on the marketing success, but this is a bad film and will remain like this!
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2/10
OK, I'll say it...
bchristie-915-3965444 February 2014
Warning: Spoilers
I've been in the industry for almost 20 years and I had to create an account to say this: This movie was bad. This was a bad movie. This script should have never seen a screen the way it stands. I don't know if Steve McQueen or someone else screwed with it so much that it no longer worked, but someone murdered this script.

Characters appear and disappear for no reason. Plot lines are thrown in, rolled around and pulled out. Then there is the miracle ending that's not foreshadowed in any way - a total Hail Mary - like the producers suddenly said: 'Yo, Stevie, you're sitting at over 2 hours... End the thing already before we run out of cash.' Ugh... Never have God (or his human counterpart, Brad Pitt) save your movie in the last 10 minutes. That's first-year film school stuff.

I was hoping for a film like 2001's Conspiracy (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0266425/) but instead I got this. What a total shame. This story should have been a masterpiece. It should have been a classic.

The only reason I don't give this movie a 1 is because it is beautifully shot. It betrays a grade-school-level interpretation of history (Northerners were beautiful and cultured while Southerners were drunk whore-mongers who rolled around with pigs), but at least it was nice to look at.
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2/10
Total Disappointment overall
talgabriel12 November 2013
Warning: 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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2/10
I'll keep it short
j_smith_710 January 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Where to begin? OK, by stating the simple facts.

The history here is distorted beyond all measure. 21st century sensibilities, seen through the lens of sterilized political correctness, make this film practically unwatchable from beginning to the (oh will it ever come?) end. Every white character is a one dimensional pastiche of evil while, conversely, it's only black people who possess anything approaching morality and basic human decency. It wears out and wears thin very rapidly indeed.

Steve McQueen - a director whose previous work I admired - got this film all wrong. He needed to do many things to put this film on the right track from the get go. But, most of all, he needed to work with a script which had its roots in reality, not in this distorted, oddly perverse and, frankly, unworthy representation of antebellum America. It's a shame and a sham yet it could have been a great story. Truly awful, but I gave it 2 stars - the extra one because, thank heavens, Oprah is not in it.
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2/10
2 hours of sadism
Ajtlawyer24 November 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I was hoping to really enjoy "12 Years a Slave" but wasn't expecting a 2 hr long movie of very long, ponderous slow camera shots of nature and hardly any compelling dialog or character development. This was then broken up seemingly every 10 minutes by a savage flogging or a vicious rape or some other sadistic cruelty being inflicted on the movie's hero, the hapless Solomon a freeman sold into slavery, and the other slaves. Except for Brad Pitt's Canadian abolitionist and a gentleman from Solomon's home town, virtually every white character in this movie is portrayed as the very embodiment of evil. No nuance, nothing but unremitting sadism.

A lot of people seem to be comparing this movie to "Schindler's List" although I can't understand why. In "List" you had the compelling story of Schindler who, for reasons known only to himself, risks his life to save as many Jews as he can. The Jewish prisoners are depicted as full characters, people you know and care about. Even the Nazi played by Ralph Finnes is given some depth, a man whose cruelty has been unleashed and sanctioned by his Nazi bosses but, you suspect but for the war would be a man who might be interesting to be around---a lover of fine food, good wine and a roving eye for the women. But the slave masters in "12 Years a Slave" don't have the slightest hint of anything human about them, just treating people with cruelty for cruelty's sake.

If filmmakers really wanted to make a powerful movie about slavery, they might consider boldly making a new version of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and hew closely to the story that Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote. It's a powerful book and it gets far deeper into the immorality of slavery than anything like "12 Years a Slave" does. The memoirs that "12" was based on came out soon after the huge success of "Uncle Tom's Cabin". The opening scene of the slave-traders benignly discussing their "wares" in "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was so chilling to read that I couldn't even bear to read it through in one sitting. "12" had a similar scene with the excellent Paul Giamatti as a slave-trader, but the movie never got any deeper.
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1/10
Dreadful
nigel-denning-229 January 2014
Warning: Spoilers
I'm really going to be the exception here and pan this film. I was no non-plussed about it that I can barely be bothered to review it properly. The amount of dead space (for example a 75 second scene showing Soloman just looking at the scenery) was astonishing - any other director would have dealt with the subject matter in about 30 minutes. Both my girlfriend and I were close to walking out with the boredom.

But we didn't because we were expecting the stage to be set for a finale whereby through complex legal machinations, the injustice is uncovered and Soloman is reunited with his family. So what complex genius might effect his release? He writes a letter to a friend! A LETTER! Genius - amazed he could devise such a complex solution given a mere 12 years! So once reunited, will we be treated to the legal wranglings to ensure this can't happen again and that those responsible are brought to justice? Nope.

So, basically, man gets kidnapped, lives as a slave working for three different "Masters", witnesses hard work and unfair treatment of slaves including murder and rape, and eventually gets to go home after writing a letter to a friend who comes and picks him up. Hardly noteworthy at all, and in my worst five films of all time.
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1/10
Vastly disappointing
irr_inventory12 March 2014
Warning: Spoilers
I feel that a Best Picture Oscar winner should 1) be a film that you would recommend, and 2) be a film that you would watch again. "12 Years a Slave" is neither.

"12 Years a Slave" falls squarely in the torture-porn film genre like "Hostel" or "Passion of the Christ." So if you are into that kind of cinema, this may be a good film for you. If you like well-directed and well-written films with a strong narrative, plot, character development, sense of place, and historical context and meaning, then this film will disappoint you.

The last scene of the film when Solomon is reunited with his family is unbelievably bad but sums up the whole film: bad direction, bad writing, a big mistake and waste of acting talent.

For heavens sake, read the book and learn Solomon's story but avoid this disaster.
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1/10
12 Years Asleep
nellie-english23 January 2014
Warning: 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.
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1/10
Plodding waste of excellent actors.
max_tout5 January 2014
Warning: 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.
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1/10
Tell a 2 hour story in 20 words
sports727229 January 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Before I started reading reviews on IMDb I actually thought the cinema was a form of entertainment. Now I realise I was totally wrong. A silly comedy like "Meet the Fockers" or" Legally Blonde" is condemned as a complete waste of time."I want my life back" But a film lasting two and a half hours which shows a man kidnapped into slavery,beaten half to death and then rescued is considered worthy of 5 stars. If I had gone to the cinema alone I would have left after 15 minutes.What sort of people can enjoy watching other people being beaten senseless for two and a half hours.The only thing that kept me awake was the hope that the slaves would rise up and cut those nasty white throats.No such luck.The slave was rescued.A weak ending to to a weak pointless film.
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2/10
Why Do We Watch Movies?
carladoolin7 February 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Why Do We Watch Movies?

We watch movies to be entertained, to be educated, to be moved.

My husband and I recently went to see "12 Years a Slave". It was, quite bluntly, dreadful.

The movie was based on the personal accounting of Solomon Northup, a free black man, who in 1841 was abducted and sold into slavery. I did not read his book, but judging by what I have read, the movie did not follow the book very loyally. What a shame. I think I will read it now, if only to redeem a story so deserving to be told.

I do not profess to be a producer, a director, an actor, or a cinematographer. I do not presume to state how this film could have been better. I just want to tell you why I did not like what could have been one of the best movies of all time. I am a middle-aged, white, Canadian woman, and it is a testament to our society that I actually have to qualify that. I am so grateful to not have lived in an age of slavery. No man has the right to enslave another, and to have lived in an era where one race habitually and acceptably treated another as less than human would have been excruciatingly abhorrent to me. Slavery is wrong. Slavery is evil.

I have no doubt that many aspects of slavery in the 1840's were accurately depicted in this film, and it truly had all the elements of a classic, with a compellingly profound story and phenomenal actors. However, the direction was horrendous, the screen writing decimating. The protracted, paralyzingly boring close-ups and shots of gazing at trees were not evocative or artful, but only served to sap the life from the story for me. Added to that, the excessively prolonged moments of having to watch Solomon tap-dancing at the end of a noose, and the constant, brutal whipping scenes made my feelings of pity and disgust and rage almost dulled to the horror.

The cinematography could have been so much better. Settings are characters unto themselves in movies, and instead of bringing to life a Louisiana in the 1840's, I was treated to long minutes of Spanish moss waving in the breeze. It was dull and lack-luster, and added nothing to the film.

The only reason I gave this movie two stars instead of one (zero not being an option here) is because of the memorable performance of some of the actors.

Chiwetel Ejiofor's depiction of Solomon was excellent, considering what he was given to work with. The screenwriter's stripping treatment of who Solomon really was was very unfortunate. From what I understand, he was intelligent and resourceful, used his ingenuity to enhance the lives of his fellow slaves, and was actually forced to be a slave-driver himself for a portion of his enslavement. Including this in the screenplay might have given his character much more dimension, and shown me a man who I could actually root for, instead of just pity immensely.

Lupita Nyong'o was extraordinary as the young slave, Patsey, and is an actress to be watched for in future.

Michael Fassbender is always brilliant, even in crappy movies. This performance was no exception. He was evil incarnate, and made me suspect that Master Epps very likely had syphilis, so crazed and bizarre was he portrayed.

Paul Giamatti does sleaze so well, and here he did not disappoint.

It must be noted that I was downright embarrassed that Brad Pitt as producer cast himself in the role of the big white hero, his acting no better or worse than usual.

Perhaps the best performance was that of Paul Dano. As a white-trash overseer with middle-management power and impotent rage, he made me believe what these men might truly have been like in the times of American slavery.

How sad I am that this movie was not all it could have been. In the end, did it make me think? Yes, but for all the wrong reasons. Was I entertained, educated or moved? Sadly, I was not.
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2/10
Would have left the movie theatre if I could have.
blasdales14 February 2014
Warning: Spoilers
A true story, made into something not real. I could not get into the movie at all. When I watch a movie I like to be captivated and taken in for the ride. So much of it was so bad that it jarred. When slaves were supposed to be digging a paddock they were just tapping hoes on the ground. When slaves were cotton picking they were just playing with the cotton. All the slaves were over weight, and wore clean un-tatty clothes. Quite often the actors looked as though they were uncomfortable doing what they were doing. Those prolonged whipping scenes did not feel real. When he was left hanging, this again did not seem to be at all real. Someone wriggling a bit on the end of a rope. Where was the suspense and drama? Instead an overly long scene. Boring! It could have been a great film. But for me, it did not work at all. It would have been good to hear the story after he was released from slavery. How he tried to prosecute his captors. How he became an anti slavery campaigner. I do understand how for a lot of Americans this is the first time they have seen how slaves were treated in their country, but compared to Django Unchained, which was a great movie, this was awful.
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5/10
Kind of disappointing
ieullmann18 January 2017
Warning: Spoilers
12 Years a Slave goes straight for the shock effect. Solomon, a supposedly sensitive, intelligent, kind violinist and family-man is captured to be shipped and sold as a slave. In roughly ten minutes the movie shows how good he had it and then how bad it becomes. Meaning you can almost do without anything that comes after that. People trick him with the promise he can play the violin in a circus, he wakes up in cuffs and is beaten relentlessly. He's sold several times. Meanwhile Solomon tries to distinguish himself from fellow slaves in a manner that isn't particularly sympathetic. He's whipped a lot, others are whipped a lot, some die and all is shown very explicitly. Then, in the last 15 minutes or so, Brad Pitt turns up and saves the day. That's basically the whole darn thing in a nutshell.

In my opinion the end seems sloppy and rushed. Secondly - and most importantly - the story line would've had more meaning to it, if it would've been portrayed with more subtlety and would've been less about going from one beating to the next. It gives the impression this movie is just to shock and provoke, instead of inciting any feelings, or thoughts. If you look at a film like "La Vita E Bella", you know even just hints can make one feel misery, heartbreak and despair much stronger than if you spell it out. When a film triggers our imagination, one feels moved and touched, with all the emotions belonging to a certain situation. Unless you want to numb the viewer, instead of getting him/her emotionally involved. In that case, this movie was perfect.
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10/10
Astonishing and heartbreaking
hal934118 October 2013
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.
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9/10
A disturbing but powerful portrayal of slavery in America
parallel_projection3 November 2013
Directed by Steve McQueen and staring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict CUmberbatch, newcomer Lupita Nyong'o, and a ton of other stars, '12 Years a Slave' is based on the memoir of Solomon Northup, a freeman who was living in Saratoga, NY before being tricked, drugged, and sold into slavery in the south.

McQueen is an auteur known for his honest and brutal direction, and he keeps filming when others would shut the camera off or look away. While making the picture that much more difficult to sit through, his steadfastness greatly elevates the emotional impact of the film. It's a must-see, if only for educational purposes—just as 'Schindler's List' is used to teach about the Holocaust and 'Milk' about the struggle for gay rights.

I'm not trying to compare the events depicted in this film with the events depicted in those I just mentioned, all I'm saying is that they are all equally important in portraying the reality of their respective situations. There is a moment in '12 Years a Slave' when, as a form of punishment, Northup is hanged by his neck, the tips of his toes just able to reach the ground below him. The camera stays on him for a few minutes. It is silent, and all you can do is listen to him struggling for breath.

This is one of the more disturbing moments in the film, but not the worst. Eventually, Northup is sold to Edwin Epps, a short-tempered and impulsive plantation owner portrayed by Michael Fassbender. He is by far the most villainous and terrifying character in the film, and Fassbender brilliantly captures his mood swings and tempestuous personality.

It is Chiwetel Ejiofor, however, who steals the show. He brings so much life to Northup, and completely disappears into his characters. He is able to depict so many deep levels of emotion, while also bringing dignity to a man who was unwilling to let anyone take away his will to "live" rather than just "survive." Additionally, Lupita Nyong'o, in her first big film role, is mesmerizing as Patsey, and hardworking and desperate woman, and the object of her master Epps's attention. She is hated by Epps's wife—masterfully played by Sarah Paulson— and most of the more dramatic moments in the film revolve around her character's tragic story.

If I have one complaint, it's that 12 years do not seem to pass by at all, mainly because none of the characters substantially age. Also, Brad Pitt is thrown in for ten minutes to depict a kind-hearted abolitionist, and while he does a good job, it just feels like Brad Pitt on a slave plantation, which is totally out of place.

Regardless, while the film may be harrowing and difficult to sit through, it is simply brilliant all the way through, and by far the most honest depiction of slavery that I've ever seen.
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2/10
There are none so blind as those who will not see
robinbishop3422 November 2013
Warning: Spoilers
12 Years a Slave — a biopic about a black fiddler in NY who somehow wound up a slave in Louisiana from 1841 until the law rescued him in 1853—is the nearly universally acclaimed front runner for the Best Picture Oscar. Yet it's built upon a fourth-rate screenplay that might have embarrassed Horatio Alger.

12 Years a Slave is hailed by critics as a long-awaited breakthrough that finally dares to mention the subject of slavery after decades of the entertainment industry being controlled by the South.

The message behind the ongoing enshrinement of the rather amateurish 12 Years a Slave is that the cultural whippings of white folk for the sins of their long dead ancestors will stubbornly continue on until morale improves. The formula: Stoke it, package it, market it.

Steve McQueen directs the film in a sort of minor league Passion of the Christ manner. Some of the appeal to critics is that Northern whites are shown as saints of racial sensitivity in the film's preposterous first 20 minutes.

12 Years a Slave opens in 1841 with Northup being effusively admired by his white neighbors in Saratoga, NY. Northup is a model of ridiculous bourgeois respectability, always doffing his top hat to his white peers while out riding with his family in an elegant carriage.

How could he afford that? Well, actually, he didn't and couldn't. A glance at Northup's ghostwritten 1853 memoir makes clear that in 1841, rather than being a pillar of this Yankee community, he was an unemployed fiddler dragged down by his own "shiftlessness."

In McQueen's often baffling movie, this respectable family man suddenly decides to run off to join the circus with two fast-talking white men without even leaving a note for his wife. Later, while dining in an elegant Washington, DC restaurant with his new friends, he suddenly takes ill and wakes up in chains.

Ironically, his poor family never reported or even guessed that he'd been kidnapped. They apparently assumed that vanishing was just the kind of thing he'd do.

When word of his kidnapping finally arrived home in 1853, top officials in both NY and Louisiana were dismayed by the trick played upon this freeborn citizen and worked together to quickly have him released.

Interestingly, it was widely believed that Northup had conspired with his white cronies to defraud slave owners of their purchase price by attempting to pull a con on them. Reminiscent of the 1971 comedy Skin Game, starring James Garner and Louis Gossett, Jr. as traveling grifters in 1858 where Garner repeatedly sells Gossett into slavery and then helps him escape.

Northup's hometown newspaper, the Saratoga Press, surmised that Northup had been an accomplice in a scam gone awry:

"…it is more than suspected that Northup was an accomplice in the sale, calculating to slip away and share the spoils, but that the purchaser was too sharp for him, and instead of getting the cash, he got something else."

This theory that Northup was a man of dubious character rather than the tediously upright one depicted in the movie might explain another puzzling aspect of his tale: how little help he got from his fellow slaves. In general, the other slaves as display remarkably little human warmth toward Northup. They mostly act completely indifferent whenever he is around.

When Northup finally arrived home, an abolitionist politician hired David Wilson to be his ghostwriter. Wilson wrote Northup's story in his own style, and they hit it big in the slave-narrative craze that followed the 1852 publication of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Not many were sold, but more than enough to launch Northup on the abolitionist lecture circuit.

Predictably, Northup disappeared from history four years later. Those who knew him best seem to have assumed that he had become a "worthless vagabond," as his wife's obituary bluntly phrased it. Almost all of this is left out of the movie as being far too interesting for Oscar Bait.

I suppose Third-rate Victorian literature such as Wilson's version of Northup's memoir is tolerable today if the author understands his limitations. Most of the first-person narration is thankfully utilitarian. Only occasionally does Wilson have Northup reminisce in the grand Victorian manner: "Now had I approached within the shadow of the cloud, into the thick darkness whereof I was soon to disappear, thenceforward to be hidden from the eyes of all my kindred, and shut out from the sweet light of liberty, for many a weary year."

Indeed, on the rare occasions when Wilson quotes Northup's utterances, the slave speaks in a more plausible fashion, such as, "There is nobody I want to write to, 'cause I ain't got no friends living as I know of."

Unfortunately, Ridley's adaptation takes its inspiration for its made-up dialog from the worst prose in the book. Since it would be racist for Ridley to show slaves ending their sentences with prepositions, they instead orate pompous speeches toward each other, like Prime Minister Gladstone addressing Queen Victoria. As the hero, Ejiofor labors to bring life to these lines, with indifferent, if not comical success.

Hollywood has been waving its celluloid wand over history since its inception. Unfortunately, studio contrived "reality" usually wins the emotional battle over the truth --even for those with more than a tenuous understanding of the world around them. It's all part of the ongoing, and successful campaign keep all critical theory groups in their respective consensus trances; instilling grievance focused identities in blacks, and derivative guilt syndrome in whites. I suppose once all the altruistic white people who fall for sympathetic pleas of universal equality have been eliminated via natural selection, blacks will spontaneously adopt their innate, but perpetually oppressed Western sensibilities and go on to build flourishing, first world Utopias?

Coming soon to a theater near you!
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9/10
Abducted to a Southern hell
tigerfish5022 September 2013
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.
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