Friday, November 8, 2013

12 Years a Slave: Movie Review

A story where bad becomes worse becomes worse and may never get to worst.

Set in the 1840s, “12 Years a Slave” is the true story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man from upstate New York who was abducted and sold into slavery. The beginning of the film has a number of scenes out of order and out of context. When all is said and done the point appears to be to give some “interesting” vantage points into the character of Solomon, but it does just add to an overly-long runtime when most scenes in the movie provide an interesting vantage point to the character of Solomon. 2013

Directed by: Steve McQueen

Screenplay by: John Ridley
Based on "Twelve Years a Slave" by Solomon Northup

Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Fassbender

When we finally get to telling the story in chronological order, most of the main turning points are fairly fascinating: His life in New York which very quickly gets him into trouble; his first main slave ranch; and his second main slave ranch where things have to get worse before they can get better.

As a slave, Solomon is sold to Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) a rather benevolent slave owner who allows his slaves to achieve the best they can be. I found him to be one of the more fascinating slave owners because he is, of course, a slave owner, but he isn’t pure evil. He also isn’t purely good as he has no problems owning slaves and selling them as objects. It’s that juxtaposition between good and evil which Cumberbatch portrayed so interestingly that really provided an intriguing point of view for the film.

But Solomon’s story must get worse before it gets better. From Ford he goes to Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). Epps is a pure evil slave owner where every scene shows how progressively worse life is for Solomon. Kindness and trust seem impossible to find, and the horrors of slavery are shown on screen in full view for everyone to see. It's very violent, but isn't that the point of an historical drama set at a time where violence was a way of life?

I had no problem with the violence or extreme nature of the events of the film, but I think people are forgetting that this wasn’t meant to be mainstream. Brad Pitt is saved until the end as a sort of saving grace type of character; as someone who can save us and Solomon from “12 Years a Slave.” A film so brutal it tells a tale so brutal it needed to be told, and it mostly found the right balance between optimism and depravity.
Best of 2013