As I literally gripped my armrests and forced my twisted gaze not to look away, I cursed myself for looking forward to this one with such vigor. I asked myself: “This illustration of hate, mutilation, torture and despair is what you couldn’t wait to experience?” The answer is yes and while I did not enjoy the experience of 12 Years a Slave, it is with the knowledge that this is not a movie the English born director Steve McQueen (Hunger and Shame) made with joy in mind.
Culled from Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoirs, his true life accounts of being stripped of his freedom and sold into slavery is done with a degree of realism and lack of charisma that makes it hard to accept, but utterly real nonetheless. This is history jumping off the page. Chiwetel Ejiofor endured as Northup for the 12 year ordeal, the 12 years of savage slavery as well as the months of production it took to create this experience. This film and this actor will most defintly be rewarded with Oscar nominations and might even get a statue to keep. Brad Pitt may get his first Oscar as well, but not for his performance, as kind as it was, but as one of the film’s producers. Michael Fassbender’s sadistic performance as a sinister slave owner is a safe bet for a nod as is McQueen’s relentless direction. His long lingering shots of near hangings, bound whippings and sexual assaults allows the audience the displeasurable opportunity to crawl inside the characters ravaged headspace. It is newcomer Lupita Nyongo’o as slave Patsey, however, that is sure to be the Cinderella story this award season as her character will surly draw much liquid from the eyes. Caught myself wishing for Tarantino’s Django to come to the rescue on more than one occasion, but he never did. This was instead played out as it happened, with a realism and a respect to history, no matter how ugly, that is rarely found.
At it’s core, 12 Years a Slave is far less about racism as it is about survival. Much like Tom Hanks character in Castaway, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Northup conveys the desire to survive at first and to actually live in the end.
While I usually reserve a 5 star rating for movies with at least a bit of fun (Paul Dano’s terrible song is the closest thing to fun and dangerously catchy) and at the risk of sounding pretentious, this film is too important and well crafted for anyone with any self respect to miss.
5 0f 5
Must Watch = 5 0f 5 (See it in the theater if possible/buy it or pay for rental.)
Should Watch = 4 of 5 (Worth a theater visit or sending away for)
Could Watch = 3 of 5 (If it’s on a pay channel or streaming for free)
Should Not Watch = 2 of 5 (Only if friends or family insist)
Do Not Watch = 1 of 5 (Don’t allow friends or family to make this mistake)