Director: Steve McQueen.
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt.
Running time: 133 minutes.
Synopsis: Based on the autobiography and true story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who grew up as a free man in New York, and lived there with his family until he one day is taken to Washington and later kidnapped and sold as a slave. Solomon is soon re-named Platt and his story of twelve years of slavery and bondage under many slave owners is told as he thinks of ways to regain his freedom.
As the controversial DJANGO UNCHAINED made the concept of slavery difficult to grasp for audiences last year, 12 YEARS A SLAVE takes it a step further by telling the story of an even further unbelievable and more bizarre situation. An educated and free man is sold and used for twelve years simply due to the colour of his skin and the greed of his kidnappers. Despite the immorality and cruelty of his captivity and slavery, the depiction of his crumbling personality is more important.
Chiwetel Ejiofor is tremendous in the role of Solomon, with his change of status and adaptation to his new role shown in gradual, subtle movements. The character soon realises what he has to do to stay alive, but the question soon becomes about what life he will lead. Will he ever see his family and freedom again, or is he simply adapting to his role as slave and destined to be stuck there? The twelve years of slavery almost make him forget why he remains obedient and the adjustment to slavery becomes a state difficult to change.
The performances of big and small characters are so intense, that by simply saying big name Brad Pitt gives the weakest performance will give a clear idea of how incredible each actor is in their role; Pauls Dano and Giamatti, Sarah Paulson, Taran Killam, Alfre Woodard and more all contributing to their unique and unforgettable stories. Michael Fassbender plays Epps, the evangelist slave owner who becomes Solomon’s longest master. His complex relationship to God, his slaves, wife and liquor is unapologetic and McQueen gives it enough attention to make it a vital part of Solomon’s misery without spending too much time with the character. His even more complicated relationship with Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o proving herself to be the film’s scene stealer in her feature film debut), the ‘Queen of his field’ demonstrates how McQueen doesn’t leave a single character one-dimensional, and their respective demons and qualities are equally fascinating. Scenes she shares with Fassbender are the most chilling, painful and gut wrenching, yet their interaction can still be appreciated as beautiful.
McQueen’s brave direction allows emotionally draining scenes to go on for longer than expected. Three scenes in particular make an especially gruelling impact as the audience must watch characters put through excruciating pain. 12 YEARS A SLAVE is the perfect combination of beautiful scenery, mind-boggling story and intense performance. It is a must see film that questions independence, power and morality still relevant today. It is an important story to witness, and although the images are hard to take in and the cruelty frustrating to watch, comfort is taken in knowing that Solomon reaches the point where he gets an opportunity to tell his story.
[usr=5] 12 YEARS A SLAVE is released in UK cinemas on Friday 10th January.