Brutal yet honest, ’12 Years a Slave’ is a harrowing account of humanistic hardship, retelling the true story of a dignified man abducted into slavery and forced to survive by any means necessary. Where some films would have toned down the onscreen violence to show a more suitable filmic situation – with regard to its context. Director Steve McQueen revels in huge amounts of boldness, in bringing the films account of the truth though to its target demographic – made even more impressive when considering ’12 Years a Slave’ is only his third feature film as director. By being authentic in its tone, the film manages to convey the true cruelty in every sequence that the film features.
A collection of memoirs – as opposed to a fully fledged narrative structure – ’12 Years a Slave’ is the true chronicle of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor); a New York born, intellectually talented, free-man who is abducted into slavery during 1841. Following his twelve years as a plantation slave, the film explores the cruelty – as well as the many individuals – that comes a part of his miserable everyday existence.
Hard hitting with its well-written screenplay, the exploration of the aforementioned theme of cruelty is found throughout this film and really draws the audience into the unglamorized realisation of the trauma that slavery brings – with whippings, beatings and torture sequences found in ample amounts throughout the movie. With these depictions however, the film does become somewhat uneasy to watch in places – with cringe inducing sequences appearing in various sections of the films oddly structured narrative. With the production done to such a highly realistic standard, ’12 Years of Slave’ is a completely rewarding watch – easily one of the best films to have ever been produced.
Little known British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor – who has only really portrayed supporting roles within his previous filmic releases – is outstanding within this feature production. Honesty and sympathy are but some of the emotions he draws from his portrayal of the abducted Solomon. Garnering immense engrossment, attachment and curiosity through the development of his role, the British actor easily carries the films context with his sensational performance. Entirely his movie, ’12 Years a Slave’ works due to the large amount of faithfulness he places within his own talent, conveying a staggering amount of boldness in his individual creativity with regard to the screenplay in which he works from. Through such a strong performance, the film manages to carry a character that cements the audience into the middle of the on screen exploits.
In contrast to the lead character, Michael Fassbender appears within this movie as the films most noticeable antagonist. Playing against-type, his depiction of slave owner Edwin Epps is as inhuman as Solomon is attachable, thus showing another side to the immense acting talent which he holds. The counterpart to the films lead, it is within the majority of the film that his character features and as such his character serves as the audience perception of the evil themes which the film outlines. Within the many sequences that he features, the audience is given a relentless assault with regard to the actions depicted on screen. Rape, abuse, arrogance and hardship is given across within his performance – cementing the deranged idea of his superiority over those whom he owns on his plantation into the eyes of the viewer. It is with the relentlessness of his actions, that the film really brings across the truly hideous side of humanity – which Steve McQueen never seems to shy away from during the films lengthy duration.
Bookended by two individuals that are dissimilar to Epps, the film also outlines some of the nicer elements of humanity. Portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch – a British actor who seems to do no wrong – and Brad Pitt, who also played a major part in producing this film – these individuals bring a lighter feel to the films deep and dark plot. Friendly to the character in which audiences are engrossed with, their presence is welcome within the film – giving over an immense amount of pedigree to the finished production. Finalising the main cast of the film, Lupito Nyong performs a staggeringly good debut with her role of Patsey – the object of unwanted affection from the cruel master of the plantation. Surprising and daring in her account of the desperate slave, her debut outlines an immense promise with regard to the actress’s future.
Along with the braveness that has already been mentioned, director Steve McQueen solidifies his talent with his filmmaking eye by delivering a well produced filmic production. Showcasing a great deal of different – and well chosen – shot types within the finished film, his vision to the greater detail is unmatched within the industry today. Allowing the scene to play a couple of seconds over where most people would usually have cut, the film cements the moments on screen within the viewers mind. This added moment of screen time works well in delivering the many messages – that can be found throughout the whole narrative. It also produces a unique quality to the film, asserting the ever present idea of unwanted lifestyle choices made against will. Like the characters who appear onscreen, ’12 Years a Slave’ completely takes audience freedom away from its ideas and context – with the whole basis of the information received coming direct from the filmmakers immense vision and craft. Carrying a no-holds-back approach to filmmaking, his third feature film is easily an outstanding directorial approach to film craftsmanship.
Whether it is a close up of a turning water mill, or the blood spray released from a well hit whip against a persons back, the film relentless presents its audience with cinematically beautiful shots throughout. With every moment on screen feeling completely relevant in fulfilling the idea of bringing facts across to the audience, the film stands strong – with the sheer quality of the cinematography chosen. In stark contrast to the content being depicted onscreen, these shot choices – and framings – presents the film in an exquisite manner.
’12 Years a Slave’ is a brilliantly acted out portrayal of a very human – yet historically presented – account of hardship. A dark part of human history, the film pulls no punches in delivering the facts to the audience. With moments that seem to linger on screen too long, the film does seem in places to be overplayed and slow. However, these moments are masked by the sheer quality of the films actual production. Ultra-violent in its showings of brutality, ’12 Years a Slave’ will be uneasy to watch for the majority of viewers – however, this is obviously what the film was envisioned to achieve. Complemented by a brilliant film score, by composer Hans Zimmer, the film manages to blend all elements into a easy to understand film – that is surprising as much as it is endearing to witness.
Most directors would have shown a tactless approach to the subject matter, perhaps altering it to be more industry-safe; Steve McQueen once again goes controversial in his choices so as to deliver effectively an uneasy plot-line. By playing it bold, the film is comprehensively rewarding to watch. Led by superior acting performances that cement the film in the audiences mind, ’12 Years a Slave’ holds viewer engrossment long after the sufficiently faithful – and appropriately found – climax to an outstanding filmic production.
Overall – A