Based on a true story, and the novel by the same name, 12 Years a Slave tells the harrowing ordeal of a free black man in 19th Century America who is captured, torn from his family, and sold into slavery.
12 Years a Slave is undoubtedly a clear representation of expert filmmaking. Coated with gorgeous scenery and exceptional acting, it is a gut wrenching exposition on slavery and the reality of the world that generations before us once lived in. Director Steve McQueen’s approach to the material is somewhat uncomfortable, but also beautiful to behold. His talent for creating an unnerving atmosphere and a gritty emotional blow is admirable. However, it does lack somewhat in originality, with the conditions of slavery and the treatment of african americans being an overly familiar retelling that we have seen countless times before in films such as The Help and Django Unchained. The attention to detail over the gorgeous landscape of Louisiana is breathtaking, in addition to the brooding and quiet soundtrack that accompanies it, but it is the realistic depiction of slavery and the severity of the torture scenes that make 12 Years a Slave linger on long after the running time.
Chiwetel Ejiofor, who plays leading man Solomon Northup, is captivating to watch as he transitions from a free man to a man chained, taking him into unfamiliar territory that he himself has chosen to forget having lived as a free man. The acceptance of his circumstances of physical and emotional torture are brutal, but it is the alcoholic and unstable slave owner Edwin, played by Michael Fassbender, who truly steals the limelight. As humane as Solomon’s character may be, Edwin’s tragic, narrow-mindedness and at times questionable and sickening behaviour is the most intriguing aspect of 12 Years a Slave. Unfortunately, the same strong connection with Solomon and the audience is never firmly built, despite all the adversity he faces. At the latter end of the film, Brad Pitt’s surprising presence as a fellow worker who offers Solomon empathy and help feels out of place and tarnishes 12 Years a Slave’ excellent talents and narrative force by making it feel somewhat of a cash in for his name, rather than his necessity in the film itself.
12 Years a Slave is not a perfect film in that it lacks a strong and original approach and misses the mark in character development by never quite striking the proper balance between its lead and supporting cast. But its shockingly realistic portrayal of events, beautifully crafted scenes and the ever shifting ordeals faced, no matter how mortifying they are to view at times, were enthralling and heartbreaking to experience.
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