Friday, October 18, 2013

Movie with Abe: 12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave
Directed by Steve McQueen
Released October 18, 2013

Steve McQueen’s previous film, “Shame,” was a mesmerizing look at sex addiction with a staggering lead performance from Michael Fassbender. It’s no surprise, therefore, that McQueen would enlist Fassbender for his third film and their third collaboration, and that he would take on an equally weighty subject of an entirely different nature – slavery. McQueen’s adaptation of Solomon Northrup’s autobiographical tale of being sold into slavery is an engaging, heartbreaking, moving look at a miserable era of United States history through the eyes of a man thrown into unimaginable circumstances and whose struggle for survival is utterly captivating.

This is a tale told in a slow, deliberate fashion, portraying Solomon’s journey from free New York resident and upstanding musician to clearly educated slave with a distaste for taking the abuse of his alleged masters. Chiwetel Ejiofor, who has been a crucial player in films such as “Dirty Pretty Things,” “Kinky Boots,” and “Children of Men,” excels in the lead role, filling Solomon with real human passion and imbuing him with a strong will to persevere, always staying true to his convictions no matter the unbearable realities of his situation. His is a powerful and invigorating performance that guides the film through its bleakest moments.

Fassbender, as usual, is excellent. While previous roles in “Shame” and “Fish Tank” have let him use his eyes more than his voice, the part of the Bible-thumping cruel slavemaster Edwin Epps lets him talk more than ever before. His eyes still convey an exceptional amount, demonstrating the depth of his ability to devalue others and praise himself for his own severity. Pairing Fassbender and Ejiofor is wondrous, and these two performances are astonishing.

While the two leads are undeniably fantastic, the supporting cast is populated by talent as well, all used to brief but tremendous effect. Paul Giammati, Sarah Paulson, and Paul Dano convey an incredible penchant for vile behavior, while Brad Pitt and Benedict Cumberbatch represent a more humane sensibility. Lupita Nyong’o, Alfre Woodard, and Garret Dillahunt round out the stellar ensemble, all of whom contribute to a fully functional and affecting film.

“12 Years a Slave” is a quiet and unassuming epic, one which builds its impact by starkly portraying its disheartening events. Describable as a fully serious version of “Django Unchained,” this film incorporates harsh, often unwatchable violence and true evil into its plot, examining the sentiments of the time and its miserable injustices. McQueen is a skilled director, and this film is wonderful proof that his less intimate and grander projects are just as involving and mesmerizing as his less spanning works. This feels like an important and lasting film about slavery, and a memorable instance of top-tier filmmaking.


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