Thursday, November 21, 2013

FILM REVIEW: 12 Years A Slave

The film 12 Years A Slave has been getting a lot of attention from critics and moviegoers, primarily for its incredibly realistic depiction of slavery, and the fact that it is based on a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction story of Solomon Northup. Northup was a free Black man from New York who in 1841was kidnapped and transported to the South against his will, somehow survived 12 years as a slave and then published a book detailing what happened to him. Black British filmmaker Steve McQueen discovered the incredible story and decided to make his 3rd feature film an adaptation of Northup's book into a movie starring Chiwetel Ejiofor as Northup and sports a cast with celebrated white actors Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Paul Dano and Benedict Cumberbatch. Another key character in the book is a female slave named Patsey played by Lupita Nyongy'o.

The Other Half and I were able to see 12 Years A Slave at our new favorite theater (Arclight Cinemas in Pasadena) recently. We both agreed with the enthusiastic reactions from the people at (96% critics, 93% audience) and disagree with critics who call the film extremely difficult to watch. There are some scenes which are extremely intense but the film is very well paced and the screenplay cleverly splits the story in such a way that it begins with Northup in bondage in Louisiana but then quickly shifts to show his life as a prosperous Negro gentleman with a wife and two young kids.

From the title of the film we know that Northup survives, but since we don't know what indignities and deprivations he suffers in slavery there is still significant suspense in the audience as we watch the film. And the fate of every other Black person in the film is subject to the whim (no matter how deranged, prejudiced or arbitrary) of any White person in the film.

Additionally, as a Black person, the sonic assault of the use of the n-word is somewhat disturbing, especially coming out of the mouths of so many recognizable (and well-liked) actors like Paul Giamatti, Cumberbatch, Dano and Fassbender.

Despite that aspect of the film, the overall experience of sitting in a theater and watching a visual representation of what slavery was actually like unspool before you for roughly two hours is incredibly rewarding and educational simultaneously. I hesitate to use the word obligatory, but for people who are genuinely interested in issues that involve race, going to see 12 Years A Slave is an edifying and virtuous act, and that is meant as a compliment to the film and the filmmakers.

Title: 12 Years A Slave.
Director: Steve McQueen.
Running Time: 2 hours, 13 minutes.
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence/cruelty, some nudity and brief sexuality.
Release Date: October 18, 2013.
Viewing Date: November 16, 2013.

Writing: A.
Acting: A.
Visuals: A+.
Impact: A+.

Overall Grade: A+/A (4.16/4.0).

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