One of the many great things about cinema is its ability to tell a story. In fact, it should be the one main factor that drives people to watch a movie; the plot and the story. In this instance, for once there was a 100% assurance that people that filled the cinema had come for the story. For over two hours that story and how it was masterly presented caused not a sing word, not a ruffle of a bag of sweets or a glance at the phone happened. 12 Years A Slave held everyone’s attention, so much so a pin could drop at the back of the auditorium and it would be heard, but not acknowledged. Engrossing, 12 Years A Slave is a story unlike any other. And the harrowing fact is that it is based on a true one.
You may have seen certain words attached to this movie already. ‘Brutal,’ ‘violent’ and ‘uncomfortable viewing’ have all swum around critics mouths since it fell into their laps. Unsurprisingly; as this epic deals with American Slavery and is quite frankly a truthful depiction of slavery and coerces the audience into the terrible world. Focusing on one man’s story, 12 Years A Slave is an exercise in the abhorrent evils that humans can do when losing all sense of empathy and divulging in the self-serving right over another race. Although slavery and segregation have been made into movies, the true nature of the vileness and degrading acts have never truly been excavated in a manner such as this film.
Steve McQueen, already acclaimed and accomplished director, tackles the brutality of history here with an astute and daring eye. Having previously prevailed with Hunger and Shame, here his talent for unmasking and baring human nature in all forms makes a compelling watch. Alongside an astonishing adapted screenplay by John Ridley, McQueen conducts an impeccable film. Bravely showing the horrific violence from floggings to lynching’s, McQueen never underplays the acts that a man tirades against his fellow. Nor does he sensationalise it. Where last year Django Unchained and Quentin Tarantino divulged in the ultra-violence, McQueen never wavers from the realistic and humanistic viciousness of Northup’s story. What makes it a captivating watch is the unflinching and utterly frank portrayal of the bloody and barbaric. McQueen introspective eye never wavers from the fact that the life of so many, including this man, was appalling. Here, is a hushed and almost quiet exercise of the callous slavery history that is more perturbing than if it were filled with gun shots and explosions. It aches with a reverend tone that is cold and bleak. The scenes of violence here are unforgiving to the audience because they need to be portrayed as such.
Beside him, in supporting roles, are Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong’o who both deserve credit and recognition for their part. Fassbender plays slaver Master Edwin Epps, a drunken man who berates his work force. But there are many sides to Epps than just the villain, in a cape laughing manically. Fassbender brings a rounded roll to a despicable man; who is equally driven by his passion, rage, and pigheaded believe that his slaves are merely property.
Nyong’o, a newcomer, is already ahead of her game. As Patsy, she is a women who is at the end of her masters affections and in equal, his anger as well as the jealousy of Mistress Mary Epps (played magnificently by Sarah Paulson.) Nyong’o is striking as a women driven to her end but with no strength to end it all. Each actor in his or her role are exceptional, given this real characters stories and depth. Every level of role is tackled well including Paul Dano as a vicious Overseer and Benedict Cumberbatch greatly playing a “decent” slave. Although decent is a stretch, he has no quarrels with owning people, separating them from family and turning a semi blind eye to the violence. Every part is a genuine character that leaps off the screen with gut wrenching realism.
12 Years A Slave is essential viewing. As significant and impacting as a film can get, McQueen’s drama is an overwhelming masterpiece that casts an eye on the atrocities that man has committed in its need for power. In a way I've not done before, I urge you to watch this film and listen to this incredible story of a man pushed into hell and despite the beatings and crushing reality, powered through because of hope.
Listen because you will learn a harsh truth about slavery.
Learn because this story that is heart-breaking and true.