12 Years a Slave (2014) Review

Many critically acclaimed films try to comment on significant issues, and as the name suggests, 12 Years a Slave focuses of the brutality of slavery. Based on his own memoirs, it follows the life of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Serenity, Children of Men) a free black man in 1850s America who gets kidnapped and sold into slavery.

People say that it is a hard watch, and they’re not wrong. The content isn’t as disturbing when comparing to recent films such as Django Unchained, but it is made more impactful by Steve McQueen’s directing style. The majority of the scenes of abuse take place off screen, leaving the audience to use their imagination, and its worsened when it is shown. This is captured powerfully by Ejiofor, who forges such a strong emotional bond with the audience. He’s deservedly nominated for a Best Actor Oscar, and I think this can be seen in one scene where he starts singing to a work song, his delivery is intensely emotional, a broken man who has accepted his situation.

Master and Slave: Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender

Master and Slave: Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender

And while this is predominantly Ejiofor’s film, the supporting cast shouldn’t be overlooked. One of the most distinctive out roles was that of the plantation owner, Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender, Prometheus, Shame). He is a brilliant villain, not as an over-the-top megalomaniac, but a chilling representation of the cruelty of humanity. His introductory scene is him quoting the Bible to his slaves, reminding us that these kinds of people used religion to justify their sadistic cruelty, something that is especially relevant today with the presence of extremist groups.

We can see positive aspects of humanity as well. Benedict Cumberbatch (August: Osage County, Sherlock) appears as a relatively kind slave owner, despite that being an oxymoron by today’s standards, and Brad Pitt (12 Monkeys, The Departed) as friendly carpenter Bass. Pitt’s character probably has the most modern viewpoint, despite him sounding exactly like his Lt. Aldo Raine from Inglourious Basterds. However, the screen time dedicated to these roles is quite small, and I would have loved to see more of both Cumberbatch and Pitt.

12 Years a Slave isn’t a fun and comfortable film, but it is truly great cinema. Featuring a strong supporting cast, and driven by Ejiofor’s emotional lead role, it achieves what it set out to do: to bring slavery to the forefront of discussion and to generate thought and discussion.

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Rating: 5/5 Stars

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4 thoughts on “12 Years a Slave (2014) Review

  1. Good review! Many say once is another when it comes to watching 12 Years and I can agree, like you said its uncomfortable at times but nevertheless a great depiction of the slave era. Great cast and acting, directing I gave it a full five stars too when I reviewed it a while back, surely going to be one of the biggest Oscar winners too!

  2. Good review Dawson. I can’t say that I loved this like everyone else did. However, I did truly respect this as a film that had a vision, and never seemed to back down from it once. That’s probably more of a credit given to McQueen and his direction, but so be it.

    • Thanks Dan! I can understand where you are coming from, it did slow down at some points. But I think McQueen got his message across, and I would be surprised if it didn’t get recognition at the Oscars.

    • Thanks Dan! I can understand where you are coming from, it did slow down at some points. But I think McQueen got his message across, and I would be surprised if it didn’t get recognition at the Oscars.

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