You know what? The opening that I had planned for this year strayed a little bit too much on the uncomfortably dark side of the “Edgy” spectrum, and so, considering the subject matter, I decided to just jump right in.
12 Years a Slave
Directed By: Steve McQueen (No, not THAT one)
Produced by: Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Bill Pohlad, Steve McQueen, Arnon Milchan, Anthony Katagas
Written by: John Ridley
Based on: Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup
Genre: Epic, Biographical drama
Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt
Other Actors: Adepero Oduye, Scoot McNairy, Taran Killam, Michael K. Williams, Garret Dillahunt, Alfre Woodard, Quvenzhane Wallis (Jesus Christ, that name!)
Oscar Nominations: Best Film Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, Best Adapted Screnplay (Ridley) Best Supporting Actress (Nyong’o) Best Supporting Actor (Fassbender) Best Actor (Ejiofor) Best Director (McQueen) Best Picture
Plot: Solomon Northup is a free black man living in 1841 Saratoga Springs, New York. He has managed to eke out a nice living for his family as a carpenter, and an extremely talented fiddler. While his wife and children are away on a trip, Solomon is offered and accepts a two week job as a travelling musician. Unfortunately, at the tour’s end in D.C., his employers (McNairy and Killam) drug him, and he wakes up bound in chains, kidnapped, and about to be sold into slavery.
Heads Up: This plot summary is a little more revealing then I’d like it to be, normally, so if you don’t want to learn too much about the story (Although I don’t actually mention any spoilers) go ahead and skip to the photo of Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult and Peter Dinklage being cute.
Solomon is packed onto a ship and shipped to New Orleans, where he is renamed “Platt” (The name of a runaway slave from Georgia) and put on the market by the evil, unrepentant slave owner, Theophilus Freeman (Giamatti), which has got to be one of the most ironic last names in the history of cinema. Freeman sells Solomon to the plantation owner, William Ford (Cumberbatch). Ford is generally a good person (Or, you know, as good a person who believes that owning other people is fine by God could possibly be), and takes a liking to Solomon after the latter engineers a waterway for transporting logs through the plantation, even giving him a violin in gratitude.
Unfortunately, not everybody on the plantation is as fond of Solomon as Ford. The plantation carpenter, John Tibeats (Dano), resents him , and routinely verbally abuses him. One day, Tibeats pushes Solomon over the edge, and Solomon attacks him, beating him with his own whip. However, this provokes a lynch mob, and, to protect himself and Solomon, he sells his prize slave to a cotton plantation owner, Edwin Epps (Fassbender). While Ford probably wasn’t as compassionate as he thought he was, Epps is much, MUCH worse.
Epps uses a literal interpretation of the Bible to justify his and his wife (Paulsen)’s horrific abuses of their slaves. While there, he befriends Patsey (Nyong’o), a young slave woman who has gained Epps’ favour by picking a shitload of cotton every day (Slaves on Epps’ plantation are expected to pick 200 lbs of cotton each day, or they get beaten to hell) and Samuel Bass (Pitt), a Canadian carpenter who displays anti-slavery sentiments.
Man, what could I say about the story of 12 Years a Slave that hasn’t been said already? Yes, it’s heavy-handed (But y’know, so was slavery) and it was extremely brutal, disturbing and difficult to watch sometimes (But y’know, so was slavery).
And yeah, you may routinely shed tears (As I admit that I nearly did) over the suffering being witnessed, and you may wish that Solomon would pull a Django Unchained and just start massacring these slaving sons of bitches, but that’s just not realistic, and ultimately, it’s a necessary viewing experience that everybody should experience at least once (Y’know, unlike slavery) to truly understand some of the darker truths of the history of the Americas. And for all the ugliness, the film still manages to be beautifully shot, and the locations really take you back to the Deep South in the 19th century.
Acting: The actors had a fantastic script to work with (Kudos to John Ridley) and each and every one gave it their all. Even the bit players (Pitt, Dano, Giamatti, Raising Hope’s Garrett Dillahunt, etc.) all make their marks on the movie. Benedict Cumberbatch and Sarah Paulsen are also excellent as William Ford and Edwin Epps’ evil wife, Mary.
However, as you may have guessed, it’s the Oscar-nominated actors who steal the show. Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o radiates tragic brilliance in her first-ever full length movie (She landed this role shortly before graduating from Yale). She had previously only appeared in a short film called East River and a documentary about the albino population in Kenya, which she also directed. Her performance was contrasted wildly with Michael Fassbender’s wonderful performance of Evil Incarnate (Er, I meant “Edwin Epps”). It’s been a long time since a villain has frightened me as much as Epps. He’s a bully, a racist, a sadist, a slaver, and a religious fundamentalist who treats other human beings as objects or (In the case of Patsey) sex slaves for his own personal gratification. He may be everything that I despise rolled into one frustratingly good looking human being.
Chiwetel Ejiofor steals the show, however, as Solomon Northup. The British-Nigerian actor has immortalized himself with this star-making performance, taking the audience on an emotional roller coaster with his facial expressions alone. Hell, if the movie was just an hour-long compilation of Ejiofor’s lines, it would still probably get a good rating from me.
What Oscar Nominations Does It Deserve?
- Best Film Editing: Okay (I’m still unclear as to what exactly that is, but sure, why not?)
- Best Costume Design: Yes, yes, absolutely.
- Best Production Design: Like I said, it may have ugly subject matter, but it’s still beautifully shot.
- Best Adapted Screenplay (Ridley): Yup.
- Best Supporting Actress (Nyong’o): Absolutely. I’d even say she was better than Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle, which is significant when you consider how much of a Jennifer Lawrence fan I am.
- Best Supporting Actors (Fassbender): Without a doubt, Edwin Epps is one of the greates (For lack of a better word) villains in film history.
- Best Actor (Ejiofor): Hell yeah.
- Best Director (McQueen): Yes.
- Best Picture: Absolutely. Hell, I’d nominate this movie for Best Animated Picture, if I could.
Overall Rating: 10/10