12 Years a Slave (2013)

In honor of the exciting awards season that has just passed–especially for the Oscars at the Dolby Theater–I decided to “being” this year after countless drafts on the short-lived HBO series Rome.  WordPress decided it did not want to save any of those drafts, so I’m moving on to bigger and better things!  Here we go…


12 Years a Slave a 2013 British-American historical epic drama film and an adaptation of the 1853 memoir of the same name by Solomon Northup, a New York State-born free negro who was kidnapped in Washington, D.C. in 1841 and sold into slavery. He worked on plantations in the state of Louisiana for twelve years before his release.  It is the third feature film by Steve McQueen, and written by John Ridley.  It stars a huge cast with Chiwetel Ejiofor starred in the leading role of Northup. Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt and Alfre Woodard are all featured in supporting roles.  (Running Time: 134 minutes)(Rated R for violence/cruelty, some nudity and brief sexuality)

It took me nearly three months to see this movie.  It was originally released in the US in early November, and I promised myself I would go see it, already considering it for my top favorites of 2013 (even when I hadn’t seen it yet).  At the beginning of February, after its second re-release at the local theater, I sat myself down in the theater at a lonely matinee showing.  But that was okay.  It was a moving that needed to move an audience, one member at a time.

As written on http://www.imdb.com by msia91 (Penang, Malaysia / Chicago, USA) on 18 October 2013, “…I stared at the movie screen with full dread, I was reeling back at certain scenes I had just witnessed. There were good films and television shows about slavery before, and they had various nuances at how to tackle slavery. This film is part of said resurgence of the sub-genre, hot on the heels of “Django Unchained” and “The Butler”. But while the former relinquishes on Spaghetti Western entertainment more than attempting to address the issue in a political light as the latter, Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” shuts those two up, and perhaps the entire sub-genre, for good. I doubt any future slavery-themed film will be as harrowing as this one was.”

This movie was crafted not to deliver a political or racial message to the audience.  It was to convey the horrors of slavery, set just before the Civil War in the deep south.  We were encouraged to remember a time in our history, when such tragic things happened.  But the film also subtly taught us about slavery today.  But most importantly, it focused on the story of one man, Solomon Northup, and his twelve years in slavery.

I am not privy to Steve McQueen’s body of work.  But judging from this film, and what I have heard and read about his other ones, he chooses to use wide angles to give actors the chance to move around.  He allows the nudity not for the erotic content, but the realistic depiction of desperation and futility.  The long takes and sometimes too-close-up shots are there to showcase the characters’ hunger for freedom and occasionally bring discomfort to the audience.

Lupita-grassAnd the acting.  Oh…the acting was superb.  Probably one of the major qualities of the movie.

Chiwetel has seemingly come out of nowhere.  The emotional intensity that he delivers across the screen is brilliant.  There are so many shots that give him the challenge to just…let go.  There is a one-shot-scene where he is simply glancing around the plantation, then he locks eyes with the corner of the camera lens, holds it, then pulls away.  It gave me goosebumps.  Then the young Lupita Nyong’o!  She was absolutely riveting!  Her desperation and horror was something that made the movie unsettling, but at the same time, so open for heartbreak.  She delivered a stellar performance that will be admired and studied for some years to come.  Michael Fassbender is also coming along as a actor I will keep on keep on keep on watching.  Then all the rest…they were all just a great cast that were the corner pillars of the picture, holding the movie up high and proud.  I don’t know how else to say it.

Special nod to the production design, costumes, and period pieces.  They were well-crafted, but never stood out, keeping your attention on the characters.  Then followed some cinematography that had beautiful, sometimes simple camera movements that were something to marvel at.

The movie was filmed on a $20 million budget, but managed to gross over $140 million, and the number is still climbing!  The picture was shot mainly in Louisiana.

When the awards season was heading our way, I was pretty sure this one would take home gold.  I feel pretty lucky enough to say I was right.  At the Academy Awards (this past evening, in fact), 12 Years was nominated for an impressive nine Oscars.  It nabbed Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, and Supporting Actress by the end, making this the second year in a row that a Best Pic at the Oscars has only needed two other wins to win the big one for the night.  Makes you think what they could do for the next few years…

5 out of 7 stars.  I emphasize that this movie isn’t for everybody–at least the folks who are not too keen on movie’s depicting slavery.  You could say its the modern day Roots for this generation.  A brutally fantastic story that will tear your heart in two before trying–and I underline trying–to mend it back together again.twelve_years_a_slave


About Morgan

January 2016 Update: This blog is under reconstruction. Please be patient while we gradually remove old material, posts, and pages, and create new ones. Thank you.
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