A movie leading the charge into Oscar season is Steve McQueen’s adaptation of “12 Years A Slave.” After earning rave reviews on the festival circuit, the film is about to open wide, and this is this season’s must-see.
Based on the book of the same name, written by Solomon Northrup in 1853, it follows Northrup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black family man in New York, as he is kidnapped and sold into slavery in pre-Civil War America. As Northrup is given a new identity and changes hands amongst the slaveholders in Louisiana, he faces the hardships of a time normally white-washed for the general audiences.
For “12 Years” this is not the case. In its pursuit of accuracy to the book, everything about Northrup’s experiences are in your-face in the most brutal way. His first owner (Benedict Cumberbatch) shows him kindness in a gift of a fiddle, but is forced to sell Northrup after he becomes a target for his outspoken manner.
Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) acquires him, and the cruel slave owner, whose equally cruel wife, place Northrup in positions where he must question himself and the world he now lives in.
The movie is not for the light-hearted in any manner. Epps attentions to slave Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) take a violent turn, as does his use of the whip to control and push his slaves to higher production in the cotton fields.
Ejiofor beautiful portrayal of Northrup lays the character bare and forces the audience to make an emotional connection with him. We feel as he does, from despair to terror to elation.
When Brad Pitt’s character Bass makes good on his promise and the summation of Northrup’s time as a slave is near, you still don’t breathe a sigh of relief, because from now on, Northrup is no longer truly a freeman to himself, as the time he spent as a slave wear on him.
Fassbender brilliantly plays slave owner Epps, a man so consumes with himself and his own desires, that he twists his ability to own slaves to that of a God-given right.
Indeed, the postulation to the Christian religion against the backdrop of the South only serves to drive the evil of the trade home, as scripture readings are heard over scenes of brutal working conditions and beatings.
For a movie of such a disgusting topic, the movie is shockingly quiet in its violence and in its peace. In a world gone mad for explosions, of bombs and emotions, even the most exuberant display of emotion is downplayed, as McQueen strives to show that a picture, or in this case a film, is worth more than a thousand words, or any at all.
“12 Years A Slave” is rated R for violence, nudity and sexuality and most assuredly deserves the A that it garners from me. It’s a tough watch, but a must-see amongst all the other must-sees in this season. Watcher beware, this is no popcorn flick, and you will leave with a new appreciation for the history of the United States and its cruelest time.