Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

12 Years A Slave

I’m still trying to get my head around the fact that it took a British acclaimed filmmaker, and a Golden Globe nominated British and a German actor to make what is possibly the best movie EVER about American slavery. Steve McQueen’s take on the true story of Solomon Northup, an African-American free man who in 1841 was snatched off the streets in Washington and shipped South and sold into slavery is an electrifying tale of sheer brutality and human suffering that is so far removed from the usual Hollywood depiction of slaves ( think ‘Gone With The Wind’).

The movie starts with Solomon already enslaved and living a miserable existence on a cotton plantation, and the story of how we got there is told as a flashback.  He learnt from other free men that had been kidnapped that to survive he had to submit to every whim of his ‘Master’, but as he was just a few days into his new life he refuted this saying that mere survival was not enough for him ‘I want to live’. After years with one reasonably decent Plantation Owner he is sold on to a another who is the worst kind of a violent drunk and whose sadistic streak insures that Solomon (now named Pratt by his owners) now focuses on survival after all.

Pratt now knows to keep dumb about his past life and how educated he is, as Plantation owners, and their wives feel threatened by any negro that could possible be a challenge to them.  When he is sent to a nearby Trading Post to get supplies he thinks about escaping but then he comes across a mob lynching two other slaves who had the same idea, so he quickly changes his mind.
Epps the Plantation Owner preaches to all his slaves every Sunday but twists the words of the Bible to justify his barbarous cruelty of them all. Even with the pretty one who he sleeps with frequently but still almost beats too death when he perceives that she may be showing some spirit. He is a thug and a bully and even his own wife does not escape his vicious temper tantrums.
Chiwetol Ejilofor gives a spellbinding Oscar worthy performance as Solomon that you simply cannot take your eyes off. He just so encapsulates the part that even though the title conveys the possibility of a happy ending, you are nevertheless convinced that he could never possible come through this ordeal alive.  Already with a powerful resume to his name (‘Kinky Boots’ ‘Dirty Pretty Things’, ‘American Gangster’) this is a career defining moment for this extraordinary actor.
Michael Fassbender, re-united with McQueen for their third collaboration (‘Hunger’ ‘Shame’) is the very epitome of evil with his portrayal of Epps.  He is nothing less than scarily stunning and although he teeters on the point of excess, still keeps it realistic and totally believable.  There has to be some acting nominations in line for him for this latest wonderful performance of his.
The remarkable aspect of this true story that as it was the work of an educated man, it’s portrayal of the slave’s daily struggle just to exist is not only so more authentic but studied with such fine detail that makes it both more realistic than other movies, and much more horrifying.  ‘Lee Daniels The Butler’ for that came out earlier this year for example was about a slave who became a free man and who spent his whole life bettering himself : Solomon who never was a slave has a much more intolerable and desperate situation.
McQueen, who was an award winning artist before he turned his hand to filmmaking, has used his remarkable eye to make some powerful visual imagery that insures that the impact of the ferocious savagery never ever escapes your rapt attention for one single moment.The whole movie is nothing short of excellent.

P.S. Lest I forget, Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumerbatch Alfre Woodard, Paul Giamatti and last year’s 5 year old Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis are also in the cast.

Posted by queerguru  at  01:17

Genres:  drama

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