12 Years a Slave 4.5/5 – Movie Reviews by Ry!

12 Years a Slave12 Years a Slave – 4.5/5 – Film is an art.  Like everything that falls into the art category, it has to make you feel the situation, regardless of how it is created.  When it comes to this particular film, the artistry is honed into the aspect of the era, Slavery in America.  This film is not blockbuster made, but is made with a ‘biographical’ sense that shows the most vicious time in our County’s history.  More specifically, the film takes focus of one man (Solomon Northup) and his trials of being kidnap and sold into slavery.  Through a very dire humanistic perspective, and some methodical pacing, 12 Years a Slave is one of the best films of the year, as well as one of the hardest to watch.  This film is not meant for everyone, so you’ve been forewarned.

Premise: In the United States in the 1840s, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery.  Through his recollection, we witness the trials and tribulation of one man’s struggle to survive, and find a way back home.

Playing the lead role of Solomon Northup is Chiwetel Ejiofor.  He has played in many other films.  In those films, he usually is a supporting cast member, but this time he takes the leap to lead character.  Making this leap is one of the best things he could have ever done because he gives one of the best performances of the year.  As Solomon Northup, he provides us with a very proud and intelligent individual.  Within that aura of being distinguished, it helps create a man, captured by circumstance, which must find the will and determination to survive this heinous act brought upon him.  Through the bulk of the film, you watch as he has to break from his own moral code at times just to find a way to survive being a slave.  Through these situations, you watch as the emotions are raw and pristine, created through his action and conversation with other slaves and masters.  No matter the situations, he bleeds the hopelessness of the struggle, literally and figuratively.  That sense of fragility gives a scope of strength that pulls you in, and forces you to become part of his story.  Through this, it helps draw upon the most important aspects of living, and causes you to revere humanities flaws.   Ejiofor gives us gives us an Oscar worthy performance.  Outside of his role, there are many known names in the film in many supporting roles (Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano and Sarah Paulson) but I am going to first focus on the most important supporting roles.  The first will be the first slave owner of Solomon in the film, Ford, who is played by Benedict Cumberbatch.  As a slave owner of morality, he creates a deeply empathic person, who struggles with providing a livable situation in the south even if it is morally wrong.  The hypocrisy of his code creates a layer of intrigue for his character, but also shows he takes into account the consequences of his own actions.  In this, it helps add a contrasting flavor to the ‘slavery’ tone, and helps you create an anti-hero of sorts.  His interactions with Solomon are ones that gives you a small sense of hope for southern heritage, but isn’t enough to break from the overall tone of the film.  This character of ‘Ford’ is in complete contrast to the second slave owner of Solomon, Edwin Epps, played by Michael Fassbender.  Fassbender gives us a dark and vile individual, who is the epitomy of a typical slave owner in the south.  His actions are completely brash, and his interactions with his slaves show us a darker side of humanity.  Through it all, he shows his ferocity for the trying times, as  well as his blindness caused by his own arrogance and ignorance.  The charm of a heartless mentality is one that is cringing at best, but is welcoming as it shows a real sense of this era.  He creates a true villainous character; one that you completely hate.  This is a great aspect of how well Fassbender acts on screen.   Outside of these two and the main character, everyone else that are in supporting roles do a great job at exuding the era, providing distinction of realness and vigor.  That realism is one that is hard to accept, but you acknowledge that it did happen.  Even for this authentic feeling, a few of the characters (including Brad Pitts) are common plot devices to moving the film along.  Even for this cliché element, it is not a detour from the overall enjoyment of the film.

The direction is very straight forward, but one that encapsulates two common themes found in filming.  You have a biographical theme as well as an era theme.  The biographical part is defined through the premise and the overall ‘perspective’ of the film in its main character, Solomon Northrup.  This is shown through how the film follows his memoirs of what it was like to be a free man that was captured and sold into slavery.   The era part of the film is how it focuses during the 1840s, when slavery was still in its heyday.  With these two themes intertwining with one another, it helps provide a connection with the situation.  The film’s two themes are brought together through a fantastic job of weaving between the personal and broad perspectives of these trying times.  In the beginning, we are witness to the contrasting of the separate lives of Solomon.  The prologue-esque beginning shows his trials as a slave as compared to his ‘real-life’ in upstate New York.  Within these first few minutes, we get a chronological aspect of the situation, defining perspective of both the times and character.  Once the film moves forward, it doesn’t waste any time in getting to the pivotal moment (the kidnapping) and the eventual sentencing back into slavery for Solomon Northrup.  From here, we stay along both themes (slavery and bio-pic) as the direction is methodically moved through one situation to another.  We go along the films progression as the audience gets a aspect of the slave trade, the plantations and the interactions between slavers and slaves.  In this, the film shines a good part of the film on the morality aspect of slavery.  Through this shine, the film delves deep into the elicited behavior between the slavers and slaves through the use of simplistic focus on characters as individuals.  Through this, the subtlety creates an eerie realization in tone, which is done through camera close-up and letting ‘simplicity’ create the emotional overtures.  No matter if it’s the market of selling people, the overall manual labor or the vicious inhuman cruelty against the slaves, you feel the raw aspect of this era.  You feel the irony of the defined moments, as well as the struggle of Solomon, as he has to sacrifice all you know and believe just to survive.  Through this, you feel as if you’re living the memoirs.  As the film continues on and hits pivotal moments, you start to see how poignant these moments are, even if they are completely inhuman. Through the delicacy of how these situations are depicted, you realize that this is beyond just a normal film; that this is a deeply moving experience.  That experience you get is the purest form of what art is to filming.  Once the film moves into its climax, you get a complete kind of feeling, as you realize that this journey of hardship does eventually have closure.  By the end, you get a sense of awareness that will define life, but providing understanding for others.  In that, this film can be considered a masterpiece.

The cinematography of this film is beyond breathtaking.  The film’s visuals are one that gives a vibrant color of the era.  From the creation of the slave trade, the clothing of both slaves and slavers, as well as the plantation, you get a sense of authenticity.  That grounded aspect helps evolve the film into more of an experience than just basic film entertainment.  You feel as if you’re part of the world, witnessing these acts that are considered taboo today.  The score is one aspect of the film that isn’t great.  The music helps provided an element of fervor, but there isn’t enough variety to help distinguish it from being an element of cliché towards the emotional tone.  One thing that is noticed is that the film uses the same music for each dramatic moment in the film.

Overall, 12 Years a Slave is a one of the best films of the year.  The film does delve into a darker aspect of our history (Slavery), but the re-creation of those times through the eyes of Solomon Northup is one that is a greatly moving experience.  If you are one that can handle the brutal nature of this film, you will become witness to a great film.

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