12 YEARS A SLAVE review by Ronnie Malik – director Steve McQueen’s film is one of 2013’s best

12 YEARS A SLAVE review by Ronnie Malik – director Steve McQueen’s film is one of 2013’s best



Director: Steve McQueen

Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kelsey Scott, Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cummberbatch, Liza J. Bennett,

Michael Fassbender, Sara Paulson, Lupita Nyonj’o, Brad Pitt, Alfrie Woodard, Adepero Oduye

Rating: A

Hollywood has done many amazing films depicting the plight of slavery in America, but director Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave will stand alone as one the most powerful and riveting films displaying a shameful period of U.S. history. This is the story of real life slavery survivor Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiefor). A free black man that was not born into slavery, Solomon is living a charmed life with his wife and two children in Saratoga, NY. Known for his talents as a fiddler, the respected and highly regarded musician’s life is shattered when he is kidnapped and sold into slavery. 12 Years a Slave, based on a book written by Solomon Northup, takes us on a journey from 1841 to 1853 into the horrors of human trafficking and bondage. This is a true story of a man traveling into an abyss of hell created for him by his tormentors. And yet, despite the ongoing nightmare, there is Solomon’s determination to survive the unspeakable and not allow outer forces to destroy his spirit.

An unsuspecting Solomon is lured into a quick moneymaking scheme by two so called entertainers that tell him to accompany them to Washington for some fast cash. The two con-artists manage to drug Solomon and when he wakes up he finds himself in shackles and being carted off in a boat to Louisiana. There slave trader Freeman (Paul Giamatti) sells him off to Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), a prominent plantation owner. Things are going reasonably well at Ford’s plantation until Solomon manages to piss off the overseer. Believing that he can’t protect Solomon from the wrath of the overseer, Ford sells the trapped fiddle player to Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), a diabolical and sadistic slave owner that believes in beating his human workhorses into submission.

Stripped of his identity and now known as “Platt Hamilton”, Solomon finds himself in the clutches of a mad man that uses scripture to justify the brutality he inflicts on those he owns. Solomon/Platt is expected to pick 200 plus pounds of cotton each day and if he doesn’t Epps orders one brutal beating after another. Adding to the dynamics of the cotton plantation is Epps’ obsession with Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o), a slave girl who can out pick any man on the cotton field. Her owner repeatedly rapes her as she lies lifeless unable to do anything to stop the sexual abuse. Mistress Epps (Sarah Paulson), enraged with jealousy at her husband’s fascination with the beautiful Negress, creates more misery for the innocent girl with demeaning comments towards her, throwing things at her, disfiguring her, and denying her basic human dignity. Solomon befriends Patsey and despite his best efforts cannot save her from the terrible ordeals she must face at the hands of her owners.

On and on it goes and the escape from the prison of slavery does not seem to be anywhere in site until a chance encounter with a Canadian Abolitionist (Brad Pitt) leads to the final and surprising fate of Solomon.

12 Years a Slave, with its outstanding cast, will be remembered most for Chiwetel Ejiofor‘s portrayal of Solomon Northup. It is during moments of silence that we can capture the despair and sadness of our main character just through the intense stares glaring out at us from the big screen. Ejiofor’s ability to capture all the emotions that Solomon must have been going through during his ordeal with facial expressions is simply brilliant. Solomon is unable to speak his truth and can only express it with the most compelling eyes to hit the big screen in a long time.

Patsey is played beautifully by Lupita Nyonj’o. It is heartbreaking when Lupita’s character begs Solomon to end her suffering by aiding in her suicide, and it is in this moment that we realize the agony that this girl must be going through in a situation she has no control over. Michael Fassbender plays the character you love to hate with gusto and his characterization of the cruel plantation owner will make your blood boil along with developing a rather strong dislike for Sarah Paulson, who brilliantly plays the evil mistress of the house to the hilt.

This film has many powerful moments that will stay with you even after you leave the theater. In one scene Solomon, who is nearly hanged, is left dangling from a rope and must continuously do a dance on his toes because not to do so would lead to his death. As he struggles to stay alive, life on the plantation goes on as normal and no one – slave or otherwise – will cut him down. It is here that we know just how much fear can control those around us, and then without warning there is a glimmer of bravery when a young girl risks punishment and gives Solomon some water. Other gut wrenching scenes include a hanging, a savage whipping (this was one of the hardest things to watch), a mother being torn from her children, humans stripped of their honor during a slave auction… just to name a few.

12 Years a Slave is a reminder of one of the more sinful periods in our history that should never be repeated. The strength of this movie does not come from the visualization of extreme cruelty. The real strong point of the story is that despite the pain of losing his family, being stripped of his basic human rights, and being unable to express himself, Solomon never allows his spirit to become crushed in the anguish and hopeless of his situation. Steve McQueen along with screen writer John Ridley have created a masterpiece film that will bring to light the sacrifices of those who came before us that allow modern day society to enjoy liberties many of us take for granted.

12 YEARS A SLAVE is now playing in select theaters

Be Sociable, Share!

About the Author