|12 YEARS A SLAVE (director/writer: Steve McQueen; screenwriters: John Ridley/based on the book by Solomon Northup and David Wilson; cinematographer: Sean Bobbitt; editor: Joe Walker; music: Hans Zimmer; cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor (Solomon Northup/Platt Hamilton), Michael Fassbender (Edwin Epps), Benedict Cumberbatch (Ford), Paul Dano (Tibeats), Garret Dillahunt (Armsby), Paul Giamatti (Freeman), Scoot McNairy (Brown), Lupita Nyong’o (Patsey), Adepero Oduye (Eliza), Sarah Paulson (Mistress Epps), Brad Pitt (Bass), Michael Kenneth Williams (Robert), Alfre Woodard (Mistress Shaw), Chris Chalk (Clemens), Taran Killam (Hamilton), Bill Camp (Radburn); Runtime: 134; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Brad Pitt/Dede Gardner/Jeremy Kleiner/Bill Pohlad/Steve McQueen/Arnon Milchan/Anthony Katagas; Fox Searchlight Pictures; 2013)|
|"A remarkably gripping and frank
social conscious pic about the horrors of
slavery that's earnestly directed by Brit
former visual artist Steve McQueen."
by Dennis Schwartz
remarkably gripping and frank social conscious pic
about the horrors of slavery that's earnestly directed
by Brit former visual artist Steve McQueen (“Hunger”/
“Shame”), of West Indian parents. It's a true
story based on the experiences of Solomon
Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a
well-to-do married man with two children who is a free
Negro violinist living in Saratoga, New York. In 1841
(some 20 years before the Civil War) Northup was
drugged, kidnapped and sold to an unscrupulous slave
trader (Paul Giamatti) and
remamed Platt Hamilton while tricked into taking a
fake job in Washington, D.C. by two white
scoundrels, introducing themselves as artistic
entertainers. Northup ends up for the next 12 years
going through a series of degrading and life
threatening experiences as a slave.
based on Northup's 1853 published memoir and its drama
is kept gut-wrenching by the racially charged
screenplay written by African-American
screenwriter John Ridley and McQueen. The writers take
it past the safety viewing of TV's Roots and even
past the unflinching Django
Unchained, Quentin Tarantino's recent
popular western-like satire of slavery.
learns in the Deep South the hard way that no one
can or will help him, and that letting on he's an
educated free man named Solomon Northup not Platt
Hamilton would only make matters worse. The troubled
man survives a terrible boat ride in chains to New
Orleans, as he proclaims “I
don’t want to survive, I want to live.” The educated
free man now slave, in order to survive as best as
he can, must endear himself to his new owner, the
cultivated New Orleans plantation owner Ford (Benedict
Cumberbatch), someone he calls "a
decent man under the circumstances," until
trying circumstances, like a potential lynching,
gets him sold to taskmaster slave owner Epps (Michael
Fassbender). He's a drunken quoter of
Scripture to justify his sadism and someone who is
known as a "nigger breaker."
Things on this plantation get hairy until by chance
subsequent help of an itinerant carpenter, the
Canadian abolitionist Sam Bass (Brad Pitt), saves
the day for Northup.
shocking racist pic is well-acted, especially by
Brit thesp Ejiofor, the
heart-felt moving performance of the Negro
slave Patsey (Lupita
Nyong’o) and by Sarah
Paulson as the jealous and bitchy wife of
Master Epps. It's also informative
and powerfully stark in its graphic depictions of
slavery for the viewer of any race to identify with.
It shows whippings, lynchings, the everyday cruel
life on the plantation for the slave, the use of the
"N-----" word in the most derogatory way and how the
ordeal of self-restraint, even when knowing you are
right, takes precedence over everything for Northup
as he eyes a way to escape his ordeal and return to
his loving family.
essential viewing even if it, probably, is not one
of the most entertaining films you will ever see.
Instead it's a rare film on slavery that allows us in
a mature way to begin realistically
looking at the ugly tragic bigoted spots in
America's past that should not be forgotten or
tolerated again. It's a sobering film long overdue
in America, that's ironically shot by a Brit.
REVIEWED ON 11/15/2013 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ