12 Years A Slave is a film directed by Steve McQueen, with a screenplay by John Ridley. The film is adapted from Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoir of the same name. It tells the true story of when Northup was abducted and sold into slavery during the pre-Civil War era, despite the fact that he was a free man.
12 Years A Slave is an epic tale about the bitter reality of American slavery and the resilience one man had to withstand such brutal obstacles in order to one day reach his family again. I have heard many great things about Steve McQueen’s filmmaking abilities, but prior to 12 Years A Slave, I had never personally seen any of his work. But based purely on his effort here, the British director has made me a dedicated believer in his talented artistry. The subject of slavery in America has never been displayed on the silver screen before in such a straightforward, viciously honest nature, and when asked in an interview with Entertainment Weekly why there have not been more films in America about slavery, McQueen responded, “it’s a question it took a Brit to ask.” McQueen gives Solomon Northup’s story justice on the screen and not by sugarcoating any part of this heroic story—he is candid at all times, no matter how atrocious the circumstances are. McQueen has created one of the greatest films of all time, and this is the first time since The King’s Speech won for Best Picture that I have so deeply believed that a film deserves the Academy’s most coveted award.
This epic tale is packed with astoundingly crafted acting performances, and this is just another reason why 12 Years A Slave stands tall among the rest of 2013’s cinematic exports. Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Solomon Northup, and his take on the real-life man is viscerally remarkable. There are some horrifying scenes involving Ejiofor’s character, but he handles them with an experienced level of dignity. Ejiofor admitted in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that he found the most brutal scenes the easiest to perform because “it allows for another level of legitimacy in the pursuit of someone’s story, somebody’s life.” Ejiofor devoted the time and effort in preparing for this role with commitment and resolve, and for that, the story of Solomon Northup receives the respected amount of attention that it deserves.
Lupita Nyong’o also gave one of the most incredible performances of the entire year in her portrayal of Patsey, an iron-willed slave woman. Her character is one of the more innocent figures in the film, but she has some of the harshest realities of pre-Civil War slavery, namely the sexual sadism she is subjected to from her slave owner. Nyong’o is a newcomer in Hollywood, but the performance she gives is more analogous to a veteran performer on the verge of a Lifetime Achievement award. Her wisdom in terms of acting is beyond her years, and in this film, she gives a performance that will long be remembered as one of the best 2013 had to offer. With every crack of the whip during her gruesome beating scene, Lupita Nyong’o becomes immersed even deeper into her character, and even though the scene is one of the hardest to watch, her realism knocks it out of the park.
The film’s other actors also give outstanding supporting performances, especially Paul Dano and Sarah Paulson. But aside from Ejiofor and Nyong’o, no performance is more memorable than Michael Fassbender as the vicious slave-owner, Edwin Epps. At first glance, the character seems blandly one-dimensional, but Fassbender’s exhaustive construction of the character brings out so many other previously unearthed qualities. Ever since I first saw Fassbender in Inglourious Basterds, I knew he had a unique gift in regards to acting, but never before has he been so instinctive and appalling as he is in 12 Years A Slave. If any other skilled actor were to take on the role of Epps, the film would probably still be a solid “A.” But Fassbender’s terrific performance takes this movie to another level, and McQueen is most assuredly thankful for this collaboration.
All in all, this film is by far the best of the entire year. It touches every single emotion a viewer could possibly have, and the acting is something to behold. McQueen has beautifully created one of the most important films of modern cinema, and for that, it deserves every single honor available in this industry. 12 Years A Slave is rated R for violence/cruelty, some nudity, and brief sexuality.
12 Years A Slave trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z02Ie8wKKRg
Academy Award nominations for 12 Years A Slave:
Best Picture (Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen, and Anthony Katagas, Producers)
Best Actor (Chiwetel Ejiofor)
Best Supporting Actor (Michael Fassbender)
Best Supporting Actress (Lupita Nyong’o)
Best Costume Design (Patricia Norris)
Best Director (Steve McQueen)
Best Film Editing (Joe Walker)
Best Production Design (Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Alice Baker)
Best Adapted Screenplay (John Ridley)
Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of the Year:
2. Short Term 12
3. The Hunt
4. Frances Ha
5. The Wolf of Wall Street
6. The World’s End
7. American Hustle
8. The Spectacular Now
10. Captain Phillips
13. Fruitvale Station
14. The Place Beyond the Pines
15. Dallas Buyers Club