26 Feb 2014

12 Years a Slave

Jesus Christ!

That is what I said after we stumbled gratefully into the light after watching this film.

Brad Pitt is used to taking risks and his production company taking on the story of Solomon Northup was a pretty big risk. With British director and producer Steve McQueen at the helm, Northup's story would be created for the big screen.

But is this adaptation another World War Z?


Solomon Northup is a successful violinist, married with two children in New York. He meets Hamilton and Brown, two performers who ask him to accompany them on a work trip to New York. The trip does not end well. After a night out of the town Solomon wakes up in chains in the basement.  For the next 12 years he endures slavery, and when I write slavery you can read hell.

12 Years a Slave is a stunning film. Stunning in Chitwetel Ejiofor's performance, Sean Bobbitt's ( the director of photography) and Steve McQueen's depiction of Louisiana, and the terrible brutality of slavery.  The film is pretty relentless in depicting the horror of Solomon's situation. It is not torture porn like  The Passion of Christ,  but it is at times difficult to watch, and that may put a lot of viewers off.

There is an  ensemble British and American cast and they are simply excellent. Chitwetel Ejiofor gives a powerful heart wrenching performance as Solomon Northup. His on screen presence is like a sucker punch to the soul as you endure his indignities with him. The thing I learnt watching this film is that Slavery is the most abominable form of theft there is. The men that kidnapped Solomon stole more than his freedom, they stole his future, his dignity, his family and his very identity. While Northup was a slave he was known as Platt, Solomon Northup was a dream he kept to himself.

McQueen makes the best use of his cast, Michael Fassbender as the sadistic slave master Epps, and Lupita Nyong'o as Patsy the unfortunate object of his desire, give awesome performances. Awesome in the real sense of the word as the horror is pretty awe inspiring.

McQueen's use of music and sound is also incredible. Music is so pivotal in establishing mood and a sense of scene in any film. But his use of  silence in the film  to establish a sense of drama and poignancy is innovative and highly successful.

It was terrible what happened to these men, women and yes children, but it did happen and that is what makes this film significant. Looking around online it appears that the film is a close approximation of Northup's book. His descendants were not part of the production, but they have seen the film and feel it is a surprisingly accurate account of Northup's experiences.

I feel like that I might be painting a pretty bleak picture of 12 Years a Slave and I want to reiterate that while it is a terribly sad story it is also a great film. More than that a powerful film that reminded me that films can be more than entertainment, they can be evocative vehicles for ideas and stories that need to be told.

I loved this film, I found it moving and evocative. I can understand that people will be reluctant to see 12 Years a Slave, especially in America. However it is probably the best film I will see this year.  It is my pick for best picture at the Oscars.

10 Monkeys

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