Nothing can be more powerful yet engrossing than a Steve McQueen film about slavery. 12 Years A Slave is a powerful film that will make viewers cry. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Fassbender, Paul Dano, and Brad Pitt are spectacular in this adaptation of the true story of Solomon Northup. There have been several occasions where films centered on slavery have seemed intense. 12 Years A Slave however, is one of the most haunting and breathtaking dramas that I have seen in a long time.
It tells the story of Solomon Northup (played by Ejiofor) who is a free black man from the part of Upstate New York. He is a loving husband and father to his children. However, all of a sudden he is tricked by some dealers and traded back into slavery. He tries to keep his head up on hopes of getting out, but with everyone around him who feels it is too late to escape, he struggles to find his way home.
Solomon deals with the tasks he is given by his slave owners. Mostly working on plantations and doing harvesting and building on the owner’s land. However, he is told by other slaves that if he wants to survive, the best strategy to go buy is to do less of what is told by his owners to do. In that starts to happen with the ruthless commander Tibeats (Dano). He provokes all of the slaves and everyone ignores it except for Solomon. Solomon goes crazy being a smart mouth to try and state to Tibeats that he is a free man. That on the other hand becomes a more complicated journey for Solomon to get home.
12 Years A Slave is a movie that I walked out mortified by. I have the guts for films that are gruesome or disturbing to most people. I was not mortified by just how gruesome this film was, I was mortified by Ejiofor’s talent to play a ruthless slave. The anger and despair that Ejiofor portrays defines how life can be as a slave. Especially when there is a man who was free but just fell back into it again. The films violence, thematic material, and the despairing moments makes you want to research the biography of Solomon Northup.
This is the third film directed by Steve McQueen. McQueens films have always had the sense to get many emotional reactions from its audience. He hired Hans Zimmer for the music. From a man who’s music is generally quite captivating to me, Zimmer made music that brings audience to feeling like they are a part of the dramatic experience. 12 Years A Slave is a film that really is sad throughout the whole movie, but once it is seen, you will be amazed.
The cinematography in 12 Years A Slave is done with tons of lighting. McQueen hires the cinematographer Sean Bobbitt, who had hired to do for his first two films Shame and Hunger. Bobbitt creates an entirely colorful picture in the highest resolution we have with filming technology we have today. It takes audience into a journey feeling like were actually part of the time period when the events in the film actually happened. Ejiofor is at his best with this picture. His hopes, his goals, his despairs, and his style attitude fits the role he was given in this film. Up front it may seem like he is a man who lost all hope, but his goal is to get back home to his family and prove his freedom.
Can Solomon escape? Best for you to see it and find out. McQueen is generally good with sad or expected endings. However, when Solomon keeps track of how long it has been since he was taken, the film becomes more powerful every key moment. McQueen’s films are triumphant. I am now hoping that he is in the process of another masterpiece. Three and a half Stars.