Tuesday, January 28, 2014

12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave (2013)

Directed by Steve McQueen

Screenplay by John Ridley

Based on the memoir, "Twelve Years a Slave" by Solomon Northrup

Currently #87 of the Top 250 Films of All Time on IMDb (as of this posting)

Stars: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong'o, Sarah Paulson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Adepero Oduye, Paul Dano, Garret Dillahunt, Alfre Woodard, Paul Giamatti and Brad Pitt

This is one of the movies that I really wanted to see at this time of year. My family went out for our family movie outing. I warned my mother that the movie was going to be intense. Intense is an understatement. I had to have a couple of days to wrap my brain around this movie. It was recently nominated for 9 Oscars including Best Picture, Director and Actor.

Solomon Northup (Ejiofor) never knew what it was like to be a slave. He was born a free man living in New York with his wife, Anne (Kelsey Scott) and his children. Being an accomplished violinist, a pair of men presented Solomon with a chance to play at a circus in Washington, DC. While he was there, he was drugged and woke up in shackles. Slave masters told him that his name was "Platt", a runaway from Georgia.

Solomon proclaimed his innocence. That action only made things worse for him as he was whipped mercilessly. Solomon is sold to Master Ford (Cumberbatch), a man that treated the slaves like humans. This is the happiest the movie will ever be. Solomon's clashes with Tibeats (Dano). Solomon is sold again to a nasty cotton plantation owner named Epps (Fassbender) who extremely religious and treats his slaves like property. Master Epps has his prized Negress, Pasty (Nyong'o) much to the chagrin of Epps' wife, Mary (Paulson) that picked the most cotton, but she is unhappy in her life. Solomon tries any way he can to proclaim that he is a free man.

The movie is not the easiest movie to watch. I was angry. I shifted in my seat numerous times. I cannot imagine myself having that kind of life. As I told my mom when we exited the theater, just kill me. My ancestors endured that treatment for four hundred years. Being torn away from your family. Having no clue where you came from, distant relatives, etc.

My feelings aside, I want to talk about the film in general. I enjoyed the movie. Will it win Best Picture? The way that award shows are these days it will. A movie with a primarily African American cast has never won Best Picture. Think about it? The Color Purple, A Soldier's Story, Sounder, Precious, Ray... the list goes on. What does it say about Hollyweird that a story about slavery wins?

Their other criticism that Steve McQueen sold out to make an Oscar bait movie? Perhaps. I have seen both of his previous films. They felt like delving into untapped territory. This movie feels like Roots 2013. The overall feel of the movie felt false. There was scenes that was supposed to be emotional. I felt nothing.

I'm not knocking the entire movie. I thought that Hans Zimmer was completely robbed for a Best Score nomination. I loved the music of the movie. It was haunting. Lupita Nyong'o is a revelation as Pasty. Being her big screen debut is an astonishing feat.

My Rating


  1. Good review Branden. I can' say that I loved this like everyone else did. However, I did truly respect this as a film that had a vision, and never seemed to back down from it once. That's probably more of a credit given to McQueen and his direction, but so be it.

    1. The movie was overtly praised. The performances were phenomenal. I think the movie will be forgotten.