REVIEW: 12 Years A Slave (2013)

Fox Searchlight Pictures theatrical poster for 12 Years A Slave.

The following is a spoiler review for 12 Years A Slave.

At the 86th Academy Awards in early 2014 12 Years A Slave was nominated for 9 awards, and only American Hustle & Gravity were nominated for more (both 10). In a less stellar year for movies, Ejiofor and Fassbender might have left the night with Academy Awards – but in the end, the film only took in 3 Oscars. But it took the most important award of all – Best Picture. And it deserves it.

12 Years A Slave is an adaptation of Solomon Northup’s book of the same name. It follows Solomon Northup as he is captured in Washington and sold into slavery. It is a horrific tale of slavery, and is one of the most brutal films of 2013. One of the most brutally honest films depicting the age of slavery.

Such a film deserves a masterful score. Its composer is the legendary Hans Zimmer, and his score is magnificent. Though, I did find problems with it. At times it just felt like a knock-off of his own ‘Time’ tune from Inception. Which is disappointing, for this film actually deserves a unique score.

The cast of the film is extraordinary: Pitt, Fassbender, Ejiofor, Cumberbatch – to name a few. Let’s talk about the secondary characters first. Michael Fassbender gives one of the most terrifyingly mad performances of memory as Edwin Epps, he is a magnificent actor – and he has a lot to do with this film being this powerful.

In comparison, Paul Dano isn’t as notable. He comes off as a young spoiled man, annoyed by the talent of Northup – but his character is incredibly important to the plot, and thus I would’ve liked someone as awe-inspiring as Fassbender for the role. Though I would say that Dano is very good as John Tibeats.

If a slave owner could be good, then Benedict Cumberbatch’s William Ford is a ‘good’ slave owner. Cumberbatch is as good as expected. But I did find a problem with one of the star actors. Brad Pitt produced this film, and his production company helped this film greatly – but he should not have been a part of cast. Whenever Pitt is on screen I am taken out of the film – I just see Pitt, not Samuel Bass. Bass is too important for the plot to be ruined by that. Miscast.

Lupita Nyong’o is one of the hidden gems of this film. Nyong’o plays Patsey, Epps’s favorite slave, a woman haunted by the horrific acts of her owner. Her last scene is haunting, and you sympathize with her as Sarah Paulson’s Mary Epps and Michael Fassbender’s Edwin Epps both terrorize her in their own cruel ways.

Chiwetel Ejiofor is the star of the film, though. Ejiofor, of course, plays Solomon Northup – and is completely believable from his very first scene. This is, without a doubt, his biggest ever role – and it will be the one he is remembered for. Once a talented actor, this film turned him into a full-fledged star.

Here at the end I have to praise Steve McQueen and Sean Bobbitt. This film isn’t just brutal, it is beautifully crafted, and features hauntingly still brutality. The stand out scenes are, of course, the hanging scene and Patsey’s flogging. Scenes that stick with you. Emotionally haunting cinematography and direction.

Final Score: 9.5 out of 10Steve McQueen, Sean Bobbitt, and John Ridley have crafted one of the most brutal looks at the age of slavery; a near-masterpiece.

I’m Jeffrey Rex

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