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12 Years a Slave – Film Review

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Directed by Steve McQueen

This is my first (sort of) film review, not to mention the film itself covers a rather disconcerting and horrifying topic. Well, here goes.

I watched 12 Years a Slave over the weekend last week as I found it on Amazon Prime. I remember all the hype about it back in 2013 but this was my first time I was ever really interested enough to watch the film. Judging from its touchy topic I can understand why there was such hype and media/press coverage, as is only normal for movies with these subjects (Schlinder’s List is another example.), although if all the praise was necessary I’m not so certain.

In the plot, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free African-American man, is shipped to New Orleans and becomes a slave with the name Platt in order to conceal his true identity. On his ventures we see a world still immersed in racism and slavery, which particularly touched me, especially on recent problems concerning the European migrant crisis (I watched this the day after the Paris Attacks) which makes you wonder if racism is well and truly rid of in this modern world. Oh yes-and it’s a true story.

In comparison to the demanding yet benevolent Master Ford, played masterfully by Benedict Cumberbatch, Master Epps (Michael Fassbender) seems cruel and insane yet rather one-sided in terms of character development, only displaying what seems to be a cunning mix of madness and rather stark vileness-if anything, a Travers Goff/Mr Banks in the latter stages of alcoholism. Even Ford’s temperament at times seems a little over the mark-I have no common knowledge on the price of violins in 1841, but since they still sell for a pretty high price even today, giving one to Northup after knowing him for only a couple of weeks supposedly, not to mention the fact that he still is a slave, you wonder how far the director stretches the character to display his ‘goodness’. Still, Fassbender instils wonderfully wrought fear and genuine hatred without completely overstepping it. Lupita Nyong’o, playing the tragic character of Patsey, displays an excellent mix of determination, fear and despair all rolled into one bundle, as does Ejiofor.

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Tough love.

The length of some of the scenes, although the scenes themselves are shot beautifully in some remarkable, almost seemingly imaginary, computer-rendered locations (one particular I loved was the swamp-lake with cotton-candy trees with the sun glinting through them in the breeze), can be considered questionable in some cases, dragging on for far too long that what is necessary. There’s a great deal of contemplating ‘when will this scene end?’ as well as contemplating on Solomon’s hardly optimistic quality of life, as 12 otherwise monotonous years drag by, rather nicely complimented by Hans Zimmer, amongst other artists, music.

There’s a general degree of pain and discomfort that comes with watching this movie-and I mean that in a good way. Painful or disconcerting scenes are carried out without a blink of reluctance in this movie, which help to depict just how tough life as a slave was. It’s a good movie overall and by all means, watch it-if only for Cumberbatch, Fassbender or Pitt, who only makes his appearance nearing the end, and definitely sends a chill through your heart-but I wonder if the universal critical acclaim and floods of nominations and awards were all really quite so necessary-if only because the Oscars love a good old humane tale to tear up about.

Solomon, writing for his freedom. Or maybe it’s just his acceptance speech.

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  • I’m sick, so I decided to give you this. Expect Saving Mr Banks soon.

~MW

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