By Mark Saldana
Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)
Some of the most important films that deserve viewing by everyone are often the most difficult ones to sit through. Director Steve McQueen’s adaptation of Solomon Northrup’s autobiography Twelve Years a Slave certainly falls into this category. McQueen never shies away from vividly and graphically recreating the horrific atrocities suffered by many slaves at the hands of their cruel masters. Though it walks the thin line between exploitive shock violence and the cold hard truth of the subject matter, 12 Years a Slave is probably one of the most important films ever made, and therefore, one that should be eventually viewed by everyone as an education of one of the darkest and most shameful eras in human history.
Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) was not always a slave. In fact, for most of his life, he lived as a free man in Saratoga, New York, working as a musician. On one fateful day, two con men (Scoot McNairy, Taran Killam) offer Solomon a well paying gig, but end up drugging him and selling him to a slave trader. He will spend the next twelve years of his life far away from his wife and children, toiling under masters of both the compassionate (Benedict Cumberbatch) and inhuman (Michael Fassbender) varieties.
McQueen has made a truly incredible film that will probably floor even the hardest of hearts. Northrup’s story is surely a heartbreaking one, and McQueen’s directorial choices will crush and anguish anyone watching it. His unflinching dedication to realistically depicting the brutal beatings and the demoralizing rapes of slaves make this one of the most unsettling motion pictures ever made, but Northrup’s story is historically relevant and demonstrative of humanity’s capability for committing some of the most appalling acts known.
Wonderfully portraying Solomon’s strength, dignity and agony, Chiwetel Ejiofor deserves nominations in all of the major film awards early next year. He uses a most eloquent manner of speaking to depict Solomon’s educated and well read background and believably evokes such painful emotion in his facial expressions. He particularly expresses himself well with his eyes. As Solomon’s most notorious owner, Edwin Epps, (Michael Fassbender) should also receive accolades for his work. Fassbender perfectly nails the role of a vicious and evil villain, and a seriously hateful one at that. The film also features appearances by many of today’s most talented actors. Other, not previously mentioned talents include Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild), Adepero Oduye (Pariah), Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano, Sarah Paulson, and Brad Pitt.
Enhancing the action on the screen, Han Zimmer’s superb score deserves much recognition as it has an important role of its own in the film. With this score, gorgeous production design, exemplary storytelling, and impeccable acting, 12 Years a Slave will definitely have a place in my top ten films of 2013 list. If one decides to view this film, it would probably be best to bring tissues or a handkerchief along, because this film is that powerful.