WRITTEN BY: John Ridley
DIRECTED BY: Steve McQueen
STARRING: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong'o, Benedict Cumberbatch
RATING: 4.5 stars
A lot has been said on how 12 Years A Slave depicts a unique story about the horrific treatment of African Americans during the slavery era. While I loved the film, I cannot agree that the tale is all that unique. We have seen many powerful films about slavery before and most include depraved actions from slave owners including whippings, rapes and kidnappings. It is, unfortunately, a common theme. A lot has also been said about how confronting and difficult this film is to watch. Again, I have to disagree. While it is certainly a film that will likely make you wince in parts, at no point was I so horrified that I had to look away or shed a tear. Don't get me wrong, I really loved 12 Years A Slave. It is based on a harrowing true story and it is shameful to think about this dark history of slavery in America. For that reason alone, it is an extraordinary film and it has some amazing performances.
Set in the United States before the Civil War, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free African American man living in New York. But, while on a work trip to Washington in 1841, he is kidnapped and sold into slavery. He is bought by Christian man William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) but when trouble strikes, he is sold to the very cruel Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). Through the years, Solomon struggles to survive and seek freedom.
Director Steve McQueen has a unique style with long takes and close-ups that allow the actors to express emotion and tell the story through their facial expressions. Leading the list of great performances is Ejiofor who commands the screen. It is interesting how invested the audience is in his personal struggle for justice despite there being so many other victims of slavery who just happened to always have been slaves. Fassbender is brutal and mean in the film. It is disturbing to watch him at times but he is great in the role. Lupita Nyong'o plays another slave and has some of the most challenging scenes. Cumberbatch is also solid in his portrayal of a conflicted man. Unfortunately, Brad Pitt's character as a Canadian abolitionist was rather one-dimensional. His character is small but pivotal, and yet, we know nothing of real significance about him.
I am a big fan of films that tell important stories about history and the mistakes societies have made in the past. It often not only provides entertainment, but also teaches audiences a valuable lesson, and 12 Years A Slave certainly does just that.