Film Review: 12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave is a masterpiece. Steve McQueen’s film is powerful, brutal, and endlessly compelling.

In the 1940s, Solomon Northup is a free black musician from upstate New York. His comfortable lifestyle and loving family are ripped from him when Solomon is abducted and sold into slavery…

12 Years a Slave is a definitive film on the subject of slavery. Based on Solomon Northup’s memoir, McQueen’s film certainly packs a punch. The narrative works to pull viewers in. The use of flashbacks are effective in drawing a strong contrast in Solomon’s life pre and during slavery.

Steve McQueen’s direction is sublime. He does not shy away from presenting the brutality of Solomon’s story. The film is violent, in a realistic and disturbing manner. This is never gratuitous, but simply highlighting realities of the time.

Characters in 12 Years a Slave are depicted in a three-dimensional way. Screenwriter John Ridley carves a solid protagonist in Solomon, one that viewers will fully engage with. It is not difficult to feel immensely involved with the character, such is the injustice suffered. Other characters are equally well drawn; there are shades of grey among the good and bad.

12 Years a Slave is wonderfully shot by cinematographer Sean Bobbitt. The sunsets are key in marking the passing of time. Hans Zimmer’s score is gorgeous. There is a a striking juxtaposition between the beauty of the film and the horrific nature of what is depicted.

Chiwetel Ejiofor delivers a powerhouse performance that is sure to receive numerous accolades. Michael Fassbender is also excellent plantation owner Epps, while Lupita Nyong’o is superb as Patsey. There is a melancholia to her performance which is affecting.

The skill of McQueen, the cast and the crew is that they have taken a true story and made it cinematic without ever losing its potency. 12 Years a Slave is an unmissable film.

12 Years a Slave is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2013.

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