"12 Years a Slave" is one of those movies that really makes you think. It really makes you get into the mind of characters and what is going on in their surroundings. You feel for Chiwetel Ejiofor's role, but beyond that, you get into the minds of the people around him. That's what makes Steve McQueen's historical drama so good. "12 Years a Slave" is a film that doesn't pull many punches, but also hits you right in the guy with powerful emotion. This is a movie about slavery, but it's also one of hope, survival and morality.
"12 Years a Slave" follows the story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor). A free negro who works a skill carpenter and fiddle player. He lives with his wife and two children in Saratoga Springs, New York in 1841. One day two men (Scoot McNairy and Taran Killam) offer Solomon a two week job as a musician. After a night out, Solomon wakes up in chains and is about to be sold into slavery. Solomon is shipped down to New Orleans and renamed "Platt", the identity of a runaway slave. He is severely beaten and eventually sold by slave-trader Theophilus Freeman (Paul Giamatti) to plantation owner William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch). Solomon stays on the good side of Ford, who is pretty decent to his slaves, and is rewarded with a violin after making a cost effective way to move logs downstream. A racist carpenter named John Tibeats (Paul Dano), resents Solomon and begins to verbally harass him. Blood boils between the two when Tibeats attacks Solomon, who defends himself. This leads to Solomon attempting to be lynched by Tibeats and his crew. They are driven away by the plantations foreman, but left to suffer all day until Ford arrives home and cuts him down. Ford informs he regrettably must sell Solomon to Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) to protect his life. Upon arriving, Solomon meets another slave, a young female named Patsy (Lupita Nyong'o). Solomon must quickly learn to deal with his new slave master, his wife (Sarah Paulson) and the fact the he is a free man, made to suffer for seemingly no reason at all.
This film doesn't tread new ground. Let me clarify, at thing point, we all know slavery was an awful and deplorable action to force a race of people to do. That doesn't mean we can't, yes even in 2014, learn from our past mistakes. That is one of the strengths of "12 Years a Slave", as Steve McQueen (director) and John Ridley (writer) had a great one-two punch. Yes, all the things going on are awful. You get wrongfully sold into slavery. Don't give up. You get beaten down. Don't give up. Things never go your way. Don't give up. "Keep persevering" is a great message to deliver, in a movie where there is a ton of powerful emotion from the surroundings alone. Speaking of, the writing and adaptation is done well. This is a long movie, clocking in at well over two hours, but it never feels long. You are enthralled by the story of Solomon Northup, the people he meets and is forced to deal with and the situations he is thrust into. It never feels long and this is both a testament to writing, but also the way you portray a character from a book or novel. The cinematography is also great. Not just the set design, or back drops or sweeping shots on the New Orleans countryside, which are all great. But, also the situations the actors and characters are put in. The strikes feel real, the emotion between characters vividly come to life and the hardships are plain as day. "12 Years a Slave" doesn't just hit you with emotion, you get to see emotion being poured out of everyone.
Leading me right from emotion into the acting, as everyone was grand, beginning with Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup. He is the true lead of this film and embodies Solomon so well. I tend to say this a lot with the films that I review. What I mean by this, is that a given actor or actress portrays a character so well, you don't think of them as an actor anymore, but the character they're playing on the screen. Chiwetel Ejiofor, in the first film I've ever seen him in, has left myself, and probably millions of others, with a great impression of him as an actor. You can tell that this was a role tailor-made for him and he fully ran with it. The supporting cast all around is great as well. Benedict Cumberbatch as William Ford is great, as it shows that there was compassion in those times. It wasn't just racist men abusing slaves, but men who were really conflicted about all of the things that go on. The counterbalance to this was Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps. You see what the mind of the truly warped looks like. You see him hand out beatings, he lies to his wife, is adulterous and has general hatred towards those around him. You see a stark contrast between the well intentioned and the depraved. Let's talk about Lupita Nyong'o as Patsy. She is the innocence of the film. A very young and almost introverted woman, forced into slavery and is abused by her owner. She is the one person that really got a reaction out of me as the movie went on, as she has some nasty stuff happen to her. Finally, the biggest conscience enters the fold. An almost Jesus-like Brad Pitt, playing a Canadian carpenter, meets Solomon. His is fully opposed to everything that goes on. He has formed his own opinion on everything and isn't afraid to tell even slave owners his feelings. When you put all of this fantastic acting together with great directing and writing, you have a complete film that's hard to really find faults in.
"12 Years a Slave" is a film that will hit you on every level. The acting is great and you will notice it no long after you being watching. Then the emotion really begins to pour on as this greatly written film begins to gel. Finally, you start to notice a completeness, and you can thank Steve McQueen for directing job he's done. Chiwetel Ejiofor has really put him name into the hat to win Bast Actor and "12 Years a Slave" is really poised win Best Picture. This powerful film is truly deserving on all levels and you shouldn't hesitate to give this movie a look.