Brutal. That would be the one word used to describe 12 Years a Slave. The true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man who is abducted and sold back into slavery for twelve years. Director Steve McQueen gives the audience a depiction of life where your freedoms and family can be torn from you in exchange for being worked to the bone with zero care towards your physical and emotional well-being. 12 Years a Slave is the toughest watch on film this year, but it’s a movie no one should miss no matter what your race, creed, age or background is.
Chiwetel Ejiofor delivers a breakout performance as Solomon Northup, the man who was taken from his family to be treated as property by the unsavory slave trade of the times. Ejiofor has played the supporting role well in films like Serenity and American Gangster, but gets to show off how truly gifted an actor he is in 12 Years of Slave. Ejiofor can be terrified out of his mind with fear or rage one minute, then convey a sincere calmness in another. Solomon is a man who just wants to be with his family, but knows the only thing that is waiting for him on or off the plantations is death. You want Solomon to fight back against his immoral masters, yet you want to reach out with your hand to stop Solomon from swinging back because you know the consequences that will be handed down to him. The audience feels Solomon’s hopelessness through Chiwetel Ejiofor’s memorable performance.
Chiwetel Ejiofor may have found the role of his career as Solomon Northup, but the strongest display of acting in 12 Years a Slave comes from Michael Fassbender. Fassbender portrays Solomon’s final and most sadistic master Edwin Epps. Epps treats his slaves as pieces of meat to torment in the fields and even in the bedroom for some of the unlucky females slaves he has acquired. This does not sit well with Epps’ equally mean-spirited wife played by the always solid Sarah Paulson. The only thing that may keep Fassbender from walking away with the numerous best supporting actor awards is that his role may be too evil. You hate his despicable character in every way possible. You want him dead just as much as Solomon does. My theory is if you can nominate Ralph Fiennes as a sniper kid killing Nazis in Schindler’s List, Fassbender should have his name in the ring for best performances of the year.
12 Years a Slave holds no punches back and makes Roots look like an after school special with its depiction of a life in chains and under the whip. Not since Schindler’s List have I felt so uncomfortable in a movie, but immediately wanted to tell everyone they should see it. I would recommend this film, not because of the amount of awards it will surely be nominated for during awards season or some white guilt reason that ignorant people like to throw out there for a reason to buy or to not buy a ticket. People should watch it so the next time you begin to complain about how bad your life is, you can think about how you felt watching 12 Years a Slave.
Overall, I give 12 Years a Slave 3.5 out of 4 stars.
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