12 Years a Slave: Review

Image from: tlkabtmovies.com

12 Years a Slave is the toughest film I have had to watch in a long time. It’s also one of the best films I have had to watch in a long time.

It’s a brutal and uncompromising piece of cinema which depicts the true story of Solomon Northup, a black man who lived freely in pre-civil war America but who was betrayed, kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. As I’m sure you can gauge from the films title, he remained a slave for twelve years, during which time he witnessed cruelty in every sense of the word whilst trying to survive and re-claim his freedom 

The film itself has already been nominated and won countless awards as well as critical acclaim pretty much across the board and it’s well deserved. What director Steve McQueen has achieved with this is exceptional. It’s a raw and powerful exploration into the dark history of slavery that has the same impact as Speilberg’s Schindlers List did with the Holocaust.

McQueen doesn’t hold back in any way from showing us the horrors of what happened to these slaves who were treated as nothing more than objects for such a long time. It can be hard to watch at times, not just because of the brutality of the lashings and beatings but because of the sheer hopelessness some of the characters situations are. 

Over the course of the two hours you see Northup’s spirit become more and more broken as he is betrayed and taken advantage of time and time again, as his situation becomes all the worse and you can’t help but just feel completely with him the whole time. When I came out of the cinema I was emotionally drained, like I had been through what Northup had and that’s a great compliment to the film. 

It’s filled with some of the best performances I’ll probably see all year with Chiwetel Ejiofor giving a truly outstanding turn as Northup. Michael Fassbender is on top form too as the truly horrible slave owner who feels he can justify his cruelty by quoting scripture. Each of these deserve awards for their work here and I’d be shocked if they weren’t recognised for their great achievemants.

They are supported by Lupita Nyong’o, a newcomer who is just exceptional as the slave owners object of desire as well as Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti and Paul Dano who are also great in the time they are on screen.

On top of this, considering the darkness of the film there are moments throughout of such visual beauty thanks in part to McQueen and the cinematography of Sean Bobbitt that when you’re not flinching at the violence or cruelty of some scenes, you’ll find it difficult to take your eyes off of others.

The score too by Hans Zimmer who keeps proving he is one of the best composers at the moment is masterful, emotional and adds a whole other layer to the film.

12 Years a Slave is one of the most important films to have been made in the last few years and is the most important films made to date about slavery. It’s a hard watch but one that’s well worth the commitment and one which had me crying buckets by it’s end. It will make you flinch, it will make you think and it will genuinely move you as it did me.

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