English Film Review
Film: 12 years a Slave
Cast: Chiwitel Ejiafor, Michael Fassbender,Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Sarah Paulson, Lupita Nyong’o
Director: Steve McQueen
Rating: * * * *
Steve McQueen directs from a script he co-wrote with John Ridley, based in part on Solomon Northup's memoir(true Story) about his life as a free man in the 1800’s , subsequent kidnap and enslaving and finally ending in his rescue by a Canadian abolitionist.
It’s a rare first hand account of a 19th century memoir written by Solomon Northup, (who is the central character in the film), a free black man from upstate New York who got kidnapped on a lure and was subsequently sold off, under a false name, Platt, and papers attesting to the fact, for slave labor in Louisiana. It’s an account that even the most vilely depicted(in the memoir), Edwin Epps, couldn’t find fault with. The everyday drudgery and misery of enslaved plantation life have been depicted with raw hurtful intensity. The scenes depicting the torture of slaves are like a punch in the gut. It’s definitely not meant for the faint hearted.
British director Steve McQueen, born of West-Indian parents ensures that the audience feels the pain of his lead characters. Every whiplash leaves a raw, bloody and excruciatingly painful welt on your subconscious mind. Of course it’s not all torture and pain. McQueen sweeps his camera around the countryside capturing pastoral beauty replete with stunningly picturesque cloudy skies, old gnarled tress, cotton fields , Spanish moss and majestic homes. But the people inhabiting those homes and owning those lands are not as beautiful. They are the ones who inflict hurtful wounds on those enslaved.
The story begins from 1841 when Solomon Northup (British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor), a violin player living free in New York with his wife and children, gets tricked into a circus job in Washington, D.C., and then winds up as human chattel in the Deep South. The subsequent 12 years of inhumanity and courage forms the basis for this well-written and structured script which McQueen co-wrote with African-American John Ridley.
Chiwetel Ejiofor is absolutely mesmerizing as the enforced slave who stays alive on a thin thread of hope that he will eventually be re-united with his family. It’s a sublime performance that is certainly worthy of an Oscar. In fact, the film is littered with stunning performances- Lupita Nyong'o gives the tortured, raped and perennially abused slave-girl Patsey, heart-wrenching honesty, Paul Giamatti lends gruffness to his slave trader persona, Benedict Cummerbatch as Northup’s first master brings out the contradictions in his persona to vivid life, Paul Dano is nasty and conniving as plantation overseer John Tibeats and Michael Fassbender makes Edwin Epps look vile yet driven by psychological turmoil. Hans Zimmer’s masterful musical strokes ebb and flow as required of by the inhuman drama unleashed on screen. Production designer Adam Stockhausen, costume designer Patricia Norris and cinematographer Sean Bobbitt make the engagement visually authentic and the experience completely heart-felt.
This is a somber, hurtful almost poetic film that delivers the horrors of bondage with true grit!