Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Review: 12 Years a Slave

Release date: October 18, 2013
Running time: 133 minutes
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael K. Williams, Michael Fassbender, Paul Dano, Benedict Cumberbatch
Who to see it with: Anyone and everyone who can handle the brutality portrayed in this movie.


12 Years a Slave tells the terrible, amazing, and disturbing story of a free black man in New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. For the next twelve years, Soloman Northup (Ejiofor) was the property of plantation owners in Georgia, afraid to tell anyone who he really was for fear of being punished--or worse--for being an educated black man. The story is unimaginably horrible because it is based on a true event. 

Movies about slavery have been told before, but I can't imagine one has been as brutally honest as 12 Years a Slave. The treatment of the black slaves by their white owners (and those involved in their sale and transportation) is a horrible thing to see, made doubly so because it is likely historically accurate. This treatment is brought to life by some amazing performances, first and foremost by Chiwetel Ejiofor. He has to play a range of emotions while being placed in some intense and disturbing situations, and each time he rises to the occasion. The rest of the cast is a veritable who's who of Hollywood's up and coming talent, and their performances go a long way towards making 12 Years a Slave one of the most memorable and emotionally intense movies to come out in a long time. Additionally, the cinematography is perfect, with a nice contrast of beautiful shots of the Georgia landscape with the brutal treatment of those who are inhabiting that area. 

But, the highlight of the film has to be the sound and music. The crack of a whip, the cry of a human being, the thump of a beating, every aspect of the brutal world that these poor men and women occupy is painstakingly recreated for the big screen. And those sounds are complemented by a Hans Zimmer score that will give you a sense of foreboding every time something is about to happen. Mark my words, 12 Years a Slave will win best picture and Chiwetel Ejiofor will win best actor. The movie is a masterpiece that is a brutal recreation of one of the darkest periods in American history. It is something that should be seen by everyone.

Watch it.

I pretty much agree with David, though his Oscar predictions may be premature. Ejiofor effectively portrays a wide range of emotions as a man suddenly placed in an unimaginable ordeal. The other actors are great, but their characters fit into more traditional archetypes and don't have to hit so many notes. Solomon's start as a free man gives this slavery story a unique angle; similar stories often focus on those who've never experienced freedom and have no happier life to miss. The cinematography does create a great contrast between the lovely scenery and slavery's brutality. The score seems to serve a similar purpose. It's loud, foreboding and occasionally overwhelming, but its noticeable silence during many of the darkest scenes heightens their impact. Some of the most effective shots are the lengthy ones that show plantation life continuing as usual while someone's being brutalized in the background. Solomon's unusual perspective and the director's beautiful and brutal vision make 12 Years a Slave one of film's more effective portrayals of slavery.

Watch it.

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