“12 Years A Slave” is a movie directed by Steve McQueen and stars: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Lupita Nyong’o, Paul Giamatti, and Brad Pitt.
“12 Years A Slave” is the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man of the North, who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South during the mid 1800’s. The film is based primarily on his memoirs, which he wrote once he gained his freedom in 1853.
Solomon is a humble family man in New York, with quite the intellect and skills. One day, he is recruited by men who are apparently from a traveling show looking to hire him for his musical talents. Unfortunately, this is a guise, and they kidnap Solomon and sell him to slavery. He awakens after a night of intoxication to discover himself in shackles. When he tries to proclaim his identity and true status, the first of many brutal beatings happens. It is here where Solomon’s 12 year horror story of slavery begins, as we become witness to the appalling, dark reality our country once embraced. This project may show the subject of slavery in all its savageness, and sickening reality. Eijofor portrays Solomon incredibly. The subtly and facial expressions throughout are amazing. He says more with nothing than most can with dialogue. Watching him attempt to survive and cope during all this is moving.
Solomon is sold off by Giamatti’s proud character to Cumberbatch’s. Cumberbatch character tries to play the role of decent slave-owner, who’s just living the way society says it is okay with regards to African Americans. He attempts to be as kind as possible to Northup, utilizing his talents for his slave service, but make no mistake, he is still a slave-owner. Paul Dano plays one of the overseers; an inferior mind, with nothing to him other than blatant hatred and cruelty as to make himself feel more powerful. There is a splendid scene where Solomon verbally stands up for himself after the ridiculous accusations and tantrums, and then physically overpowers Dano, to the point of embarrassment. Unfortunately, that can only mean one thing: punishment from the other owners. As a result, Cumberbatch has Solomon sold to another plantation owner, under the impression that this is some sort of good deed; as opposed to what may happen with Dano’s character’s retribution.
Solomon is sold to Edwin Epps, played by Michael Fassbender. I wrote last week how Fassbender and his talents were wasted in The Counselor, but here that is not the case. He has collaborated with director McQueen before, which really sent his career flying. Since then, he has turned in several outstanding performances. Here is no different. Playing a sadistic, pure evil human being, he relishes. When an actor makes the viewer sit in distaste, utter disgust, and forget that you are watching a fictional piece of work, you know it is a special actor. Fixated in this ugly world of slavery, Fassbender embraces the script he was given, a truly difficult and remarkable feat for an actor given the material. He constantly abuses his “favorite” slave, effectively played by newcomer Luputa Nyong’o with such truthful emotion. There are one a many racially charged rants, scorns, and beatings at the hand of Epps. And he enjoys it. This is a man who doesn’t think twice about humanity or decency with his “property,” as he refers to them.
When Brad Pitt arrives towards the end of the film, the viewer is completely drained emotionally and mentally. His character represents the view of justice, equality, and human rights. He ends up being an important part. We eventually see Solomon united with his family, of which now includes a grandchild and son in law. It is a powerful, gut wrenching moment. McQueen has effectively captured and displayed the story he wanted to tell. As the credits roll, and some historic information about Solomon is displayed, the viewer’s heart will be heavy. You’ll have just witnessed a terrifying truth that was once a part of this country’s way of life.
RATING: 3 stars