UK Release Date: 10th January 2014
Runtime: 134 minutes
Director: Steve McQueen
Writer: John Ridley
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti
Synopsis: A free black man in the 1840s is kidnapped by a pair of criminals and sold into slavery, serving under brutal, sexually violent masters.
Following the 2013 double whammy of Django Unchained and Lincoln, slavery is a hot topic in Hollywood at the moment. We’ve had it from the sensationalist, exploitation movie perspective and the white, political perspective, but now comes the perspective of the slaves themselves as Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave adapts the hard-hitting autobiography of Solomon Northup.
Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free negro in New York, who is brutally kidnapped on behalf of slave trader Theophilus Freeman (Paul Giamatti) and sold to plantation owner William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch).
After abuse from carpenter John Tibeats (Paul Dano), Solomon is forced to move to the plantation of the psychotic Epps (Michael Fassbender) who hideously mistreats his favourite slave Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o).
| "I don’t want to survive. I want to live."
In his previous works, Hunger and Shame, Steve McQueen established himself as one of the most intense filmmakers in the world. 12 Years A Slave is a far glossier affair than either of those movies, but McQueen loses none of his intensity under the shine. The film is a harrowing, difficult look at the harsh realities of America’s slave trade.
Chiwetel Ejiofor is nothing short of wonderful with his soulful performance as Solomon. He underplays everything beautifully and makes great use of his expressive face to convey the true horrors of what is happening around him, alongside the fragile, but brilliant, debut appearance of Lupita Nyong’o.
Michael Fassbender, too, puts in an amazing performance as the broiling, ferocious plantation owner Epps. Different from Fassbender’s usual, brooding roles, the Epps of 12 Years A Slave is a nasty piece of work, driven insane by his own desire and anger. Fassbender’s performance is huge and simmering, providing the perfect counterpoint to Ejiofor’s down-playing of virtually everything.
| "Laws change. Social systems crumble. Universal truths are constant."
McQueen’s direction is terrific, showcasing his Turner Prize winning artistry, with his camera never shying away from the real suffering of slaves. Praise must also be offered to Sean Bobbitt’s sumptuous cinematography.
More than any other film released in recent years 12 Years A Slave is a genuinely exhausting experience that gives its audience an emotional workout. This is cinema at its purest.
Pop or Poop?
With awards buzz surrounding it, 12 Years A Slave is being heralded as one of the greatest films made in recent years. Steve McQueen has produced the perfect blend between an arthouse picture and a heavyweight historical drama.
Supported by great performances from Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong’o, McQueen has produced a film that is harrowing and brutal.
He never avoids depicting the suffering of slaves in all of its grisly detail, but avoids sensationalising to produce a truly important piece of cinema.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.