The subject of slavery has been the topic of many films in Hollywood, but few have the impact of 12 Years a Slave. Due to either film ratings or political correctness certain details of the story are left out, but with 12 Years nothing is held back. It is unflinching as it showcases the horrors committed through slavery. The material is dark and unfortunately truthful as it leaves everything in the open in a take-it-or-leave-it format. It allows audiences to change their perspective on just how terrible these times were. It shows the worst in people and also at times the best. Very rarely does a film hit me like this, it nearly caused me to cry which was a new experience for me to be moved in such a way by a film. It made me appreciate and hate mankind all through this one story. This is truly one of the most harrowing films I have ever seen.
Django Unchained was unleashed last year and with both of these films the brutality and honesty was very much at the forefront, but this is where the similarities end. With Django the humor is very apparent, it has playfulness about it; 12 Years is a very straightforward, almost documentary like look into the unforgiving and horrifyingly brutal world of slavery. With beautiful cinematography, the film transports the audience back in time to the heat, humidity, itchy grasses, and of course the detestable, inhuman, owners of these plantations. The horror this man endured and, more amazingly, survived is astonishing and is shown with complete openness. Unlike Django, there is no light here; it is a portrayal of mankind at its ugliest.
Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) was born a free man; he had a family and was well respected in the city he called home. Despite having papers undoubtedly proving his freedom, two men devise a plan to kidnap Solomon and drop him into the hell that is slavery. After a night of drinking with these men, whom he believed to be honorable and decent, he wakes to discover the betrayal committed against him. His clothing is gone and he is shackled to the floor. It is from this very moment that his life is forever altered and his journey for survival begins. He is quickly sold and throughout over a decade he is beaten, tortured, and worked nearly to death by men and women who feel they are worth more simply based on the complexion of their skin. This lesser species, as they see them, are meant for slavery. According to these scum the bible says it is their right to have slaves. As the story continues on the good in people can be seen, but more often than not they seem to be able to turn that off and replace it with hatred in their hearts. This is a story of survival in the worst of conditions among some of the most despicable human beings that have ever set foot on planet Earth. Solomon’s journey is horrifying and true and that is the part that hits the hardest, there is no embellishment here, only truth.
Steve McQueen is the director, and as with all of his films he wants, more than anything, honesty. Even with the darkest of subjects, he executes his films in a truthful and eloquent manner. He puts forth a subject and includes all the griminess that comes with it, but he never forgets to make the film look and feel a certain way. He has a vision with each of his films and he is unflinching in his goal to achieve this vision. With 12 Years a Slave he achieves, in my opinion, his best film yet. Come this February his name, this film, and its actor’s names will be heard a lot at the Oscars and deservedly so. Chiwetel Ejiofor gives the performance of his career and is a shoo in for best actor. Supporting actor certainly deserves to go to Michael Fassbender, who gives the most merciless, unceasing performance of his career as he plays Edwin Epps, the slaver who truly personifies everything wrong with those times. I love him as an actor and it is his unwavering commitment to his role that makes you watch him in awe and yet you hate the character he plays. This is a star studded cast featuring such talented people as Brad Pitt, Sarah Paulson, Paul Dano, Benedict Cumberbatch, and the currently unknown Lupita Nyong’o who plays Patsey, one of the most tragic characters of this entire story. She will be known soon enough; she certainly deserves an Oscar nod as well.
This is an extremely accurate and raw portrayal of slavery and what it took to survive; most did not live through it. If I can say anything about this film it is this; it is rare to experience something like this; the uninhibited film is the best kind of film. Executives allow the film makers to create what is already a highly acclaimed story; they allow it to unfold how it may rather than interfering which they really like to do. This is without question one of the best films in a long time and I highly recommend seeing it. Please be aware that this is brutal and shies away from nothing no matter how difficult it may be to watch.
Rated R For: violence/cruelty, some nudity and brief sexuality
Run Time: 134 minutes
After Credits Scene: None
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Sarah Paulson, Paul Dano, Benedict Cumberbatch, Lupita Nyong’o
Directed By: Steve McQueen
Out of 5 Nerdskulls
Story: 5/ Acting: 5/ Directing: 5/ Visuals: 5
OVERALL: 5 Nerdskulls