Slavery is without question one of humanity’s most gruesome, disgusting, and revolting crimes ever committed. The fact that it had been going on for centuries makes it even more unbelievable that such a horrendous atrocity was allowed to happen. Of the many, many stories of slaves who had to endure unimaginable suffering, Solomon Northup’s stands as one of its most heartbreaking. His tragic tale is told vividly and powerfully through the film 12 Years A Slave. One of the best films of the decade.
Directed by the highly-gifted Steve McQueen, 12 Years A Slave features a fantastic ensemble cast that includes Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, Brad Pitt, Michael K. Williams, and Paul Giamatti. The story revolves around the musician Solomon Northup who through a series of unfortunate events ends up being a slave in the American south, moving from one plantation to another during a torturous twelve-year period. The motion picture is an intense drama based on a true story and runs for two hours and fourteen minutes.
I have to start with my thoughts on the acting as there are a couple of truly masterful and brilliant performances on display throughout 12 Years A Slave, chiefly from Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, and Michael Fassbender.
Chiwetel Ejiofor is an actor who has taking supporting roles in some of my favorite films, such as in Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men (2006), but in 12 Years A Slave he takes up the main role of Solomon Northup and delivers one of the year’s most electric and heartfelt acting displays. He gives Northup all the emotions, passion, and determination needed to overcome the shocking situation he finds himself in. It is the humanistic factor in Ejiofor’s work here that elevates this film to greatness as he leaves an indelible mark on the audience. His is simply a phenomenal acting showcase that will surely earn him an Oscar nomination, and even, I dare say, a win. An unforgettable performance, indeed.
The second performance that is worth mentioning is that done by relative newcomer Lupita Nyong’o. Lupita plays the slave Patsey with a lot of heart and gives the role her all, resulting in an incredible acting masterclass that rivals that given by Ejiofor. Together, they are a powerhouse acting duo that provide 12 Years A Slave with all of the heft, power, and realism needed to bring such an important issue to the silver screen. Lupita surely has an excellent future in acting, given what she is able to demonstrate in this motion picture. She is one of those actresses that you cannot keep your eyes away from due to the exceptional performance being presented on the screen. Truly outstanding acting.
Of course, I cannot forget one of my favorite actors of this generation, Michael Fassbender. He continues to deliver one excellent acting role after another, leading up to his work in 12 Years A Slave. Working with director Steve McQueen on their third feature film together, Fassbender is again able to totally commit to whichever role is given to him with much attention and care. In this film, he plays the sinister and evil slave owner Edwin Epps. Epps is a heartless monster who sees his slaves as mere animals for him to completely control, abuse, and destroy, both physically and mentally. Even though he depicts such a horrible character, Fassbender is superb. He fills every scene he is in with fear and distress as the audience dreads to look on as Epps commits one horrible act after another. For Fassbender to be able to thoroughly dedicate himself to the role in this way speaks volumes about the wide range this actor possesses and his ability to transmit that onto the screen. He continues to surprise and thrill me with the different and challenging roles he selects in what is becoming one amazing acting career.
A special mention should be given to Benedict Cumberbatch and Brad Pitt who play the characters Ford and Bass, respectively. Both Ford and Bass come into Solomon Northup’s life during those horrid twelve years, looking to sympathize with his cause but within the limits set by the racist society at that time. Each of them tries to provide Northup with some comfort but one of them goes a step further and truly changes Northup’s life forever. Cumberbatch and Pitt, by taking these small supporting roles, prove that they are respectable actors who are after good roles that add to their respective careers. Their addition to 12 Years A Slave is a positive one and gives the motion picture that additional level of acting excellence that creates a profound classic motion picture.
All of those amazing acting performances are given the space to breathe and develop thanks to 12 Years A Slave’s magnificent director Steve McQueen. He shoots the film with such love, dedication, and sensitivity that one is struck by the massive accomplishment that is this movie. Tackling such a charged and highly-emotional matter must have not been an easy task for McQueen but he succeeds in spade. Working with an equally-brilliant script from John Ridley that is based on Solomon Northup’s own autobiography “12 Years A Slave”, McQueen’s talent of filming beautiful and breathtaking scenes is put to full use, giving us one awe-inspiring moment after another. His film is a violent and gruesome one, that is for sure, but it clearly is a labor of love from McQueen and his entire team, especially his cinematographer Sean Bobbitt. Simply put, 12 Years A Slave is a film that clearly shows what a devoted and enthusiastic filming crew is able to achieve.
I cannot say that I have enjoyed 12 Years A Slave because it is not really a cheerful story. What it is, though, is a challenging, powerful, and resonating motion picture with images and moments that haunt you long after the credits role. It is what I would call a complete film as its acting, directing, writing, cinematography, sound design, and other film departments are all top notch. They complement and blend into each other naturally and produce a poetic and hypnotic movie experience despite the tough and sensitive subject matter at hand. 12 Years A Slave joins that illustrious list of great films that are hard to watch again such as Schindler’s List (1993) and The Pianist (2002), all of which are important cinematic masterpieces that will live with us as long as the art of cinema exists.
MATM Rating: **** out of ****
- Chiwetel Ejiofor (as Solomon Northup)
- Lupita Nyong’o (as Patsey)
- Michael Fassbender (as Edwin Epps)
2 hours and 14 Minutes
Biopic / Drama