Director Steve McQueen‘s latest film, 12 Years a Slave, is a gripping tale of survival and hope and the strength of the human spirit. Chiwetel Ejiofor leads what will stand out as a performance-driven powerhouse of a film, constantly lingering on hopelessness and despair, while eventually making way for one of the most inspirational stories of all-time. 12 Years a Slave is tensely a shot and downright disturbing film, but one that will move you profoundly.
Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) was a free black man during the horrible times of slavery. He lived in New York, with his wife and two kids and seemed to have a very exceptional life, which he enjoyed and appreciated every second of. Until one day he got tricked into a deal for money and woke up the next day a slave. He was sold and shipped off to a plantation, where he spent twelve long years working for vicious and detestable slave owners.
This is his courageous story of survival.
Steve McQueen‘s 12 Years a Slave follows up the director’s controversial sex addiction film Shame. With Shame, McQueen established an airtight atmosphere and an almost too depressing look on one man’s struggle with a powerful addiction that consumes him whole. With 12 Years a Slave, McQueen brings that same level of care and intensity to his approach, but he lines it with so much hope and power. 12 Years a Slave is a brutal film, one that many have even compared to a horror movie, because of its all too real depiction of slavery. But 12 Years a Slave is also a film full of hope, courage and an incredible and unmeasurable amount of human spirit.
This is a movie that will test you and make you want to look away at times, but this is also a film that tells such an inspirational tale. The film is based off of Solomon Northup’s real-life story and McQueen adapts the story to film with his trademark approach.
The atmosphere is thick, with long and haunting shots lingering on the screen for great lengths of time, to help nail down that uncomfortable feeling, while also to show how this torture and suffering was such an everyday occurrence, to the point of a man getting hung in the middle of the yard being nothing more than something you just simply walk away from. It’s unsettling for sure, but also eye opening and necessary to keep the mood of the film constantly hovering around hope, but also hopelessness.
McQueen walks a very fine line with his direction, leaving so much raw anger and aggression, while still capturing the beauty of the locations and the courage and will of its characters, specifically Solomon Northup, played with a bold braveness by Chiwetel Ejiofor. Ejiofor makes Solomon incredibly human with his approach, never straying too far into that “perfect” category that so many of these real-life films fall into. Northup is a good man and one that isn’t willing to give up the good fight, but he’s also human, which means that he’s flawed and facing just as much struggle as the rest of the world.
Ejiofor’s ability to show that soft and loving side of Northup early on, followed by the strong and sturdy version that’s willing to do anything to survive and keep hope, is something that very few actors can do. He’s joined by the equally dynamic, but even more haunting Michael Fassbender, as one of the most detestable on-screen characters of the year. Fassbender’s slaver is one that takes pride in his job and one that feeds off of other poor souls to fill his gigantic appetite for power and destruction. It’s a frightening turn for the always impressive actor and one that will no doubtingly earn him some more spotlight among his peers in Hollywood.
The film is sprinkled with good to so-so supporting roles by Brad Pitt, Paul Dano, Benedict Cumberbatch and Paul Giamatti. Most of their performances are quick afterthoughts, when compared to Ejiofor and Fassbender, but they do help keep the film balanced and full of perspective.
12 Years a Slave is a profoundly moving film and one that serves as a haunting reminder of our dark past. Steve McQueen‘s film is an important one too, because of its real-life roots and because of its incredibly uplifting message. This isn’t a hopeless tale of misery and pain, but a moving tale of survival and the strength of the human spirit.
12 Years a Slave – 9.5/10