Saturday, December 28, 2013

12 Years A Slave

Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Paul Dano, Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch
Director: Steve McQueen
Running Time: 2 hours, 14 minutes
Rating: R

"12 Years A Slave" is a remarkable film, based on a remarkably true story. It's incredibly hard to watch, but you probably should, because it's going to win the Oscar. Hans Zimmer's score soars, as we spend over a decade with Solomon Northup, a free man who is kidnapped and sold into slavery. It lingered a bit in some scenes, but the performances in this movie are gut-wrenching, emotional and raw.

Why hadn't the world really heard of Chiwetel Ejiofor (pronounced CHOO-it-tell EDGE-ee-oh-for) until now? This supporting-turned-leading man shines as Northup, a wrongly enslaved man from New York. He soon realizes that it's his word against a white man's word, and in the days before cell phones and fax machines, there was no chance he'd be able to get a hold of his free papers before being sold. The fear he experiences will give you shivers. SNL favorite Taran Killam portrays one of his kidnappers. This made me even more sad.

I was pleased to see the odd face of Benedict Cumberbatch (love Sherlock!). Cumbie plays Northup's first master, Ford, who seems to have the slightest glimmer of a heart. He is well aware the Northup is an exceptionally smart man, and he quickly becomes the "favorite" at the plantation. Unfortunately, Ford does nothing about Northup's circumstances, and instead sends him to work everyday under the overseer, Tibeats (Paul Dano.) Dano keeps popping up as disturbed characters and his performances are outstanding.

It's going to be difficult to pull for Michael Fassbender to win Best Supporting Actor, but he deserves it. The ease with which he portrays Northup's heartless and cruel second master is scary. Fassbender is gorgeous, but unrecognizable as this drunkard, Edwin Epps. He was a terrible, terrible man. Alfie Woodard stands out in her 5 minutes, as a former slave who didn't push away her horny master, ended up marrying him and gained her freedom. She tries to tell Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o), the apple of Epps' eye, to just go along with things. This is disastrous. Brad Pitt's two scenes make an impact. There is little that man can't do.

The quiet intensity throughout the film leads to a tear-jerking climax. There were a violent few scenes that seemed to last entirely too long. I would have really appreciated a timeline throughout the film, telling us when and where he was the longest. Northup's memoir was published in 1853. I imagine reading it will be as difficult as watching it, though it is a tremendous tale that we shouldn't try to pretend never happened. I predict this movie will sweep the awards shows this season.

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