12 Years a

Slave

RATED-(R)-134-MIN-2013

 

First and foremost, this is a smart film, void of all the bullshit platitudes spouted in so many boring noble historical dramas. With their fancy clothes and their lovely accents, these proper movies have bored me to tears. 12 Years a Slave does not go down that road. This is a film that knows what it is, knows what it wants to show you, and trusts that you will follow and observe, as we are challenged to watch what humans do to each other. This is a movie about the disgusting, shameful history of slavery, and the dehumanization of a race of people. Too bad if it hurts…it happens all the time.

There is a scene early on in the film, where a group of males are gathered for transport to the south to be sold as slaves. One of them is a small boy, and he keeps crying and asking if his mother will soon be here. The main character of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), tries to tell the boy to be quiet, for fear he will be killed. You are certain he will be, and you are horrified; an innocent child wailing for his mom.There is a certain way that the boy hunches over in defeat, that really got to me.

This is a solid, assured and riveting film by the director Steve McQueen, and you will not be able to take you eyes off it. He pulls no punches and makes you look until you think you will turn away. Solomon Northup is a freeman in the north, living with his wife and family in upstate New York. He lives a relatively happy life, where his wife works and he is an accomplished fiddle player who plays for gatherings. He is black, but he is free. When his wife and kids go away for work for a few weeks, two men who ask to meet him in the park, propose to hire him to play for their circus, and travel with them to Washington. They get him drunk, and he wakes up in shackles where he is brutally beaten. He was set up by slave traders from the south.

Thus begins Northup’s personal 12 year story about the horror he endured and what he observed as a free black man, now a slave in the south. Shown to prospective white buyers like cattle, the money driven: Freeman (Paul Giamatti), displays the naked men, woman, and children as if they were pieces of meat. When children are separated from their mother, despite the proposal of a buyer who seems to be sympathetic: Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), and wishes to purchase all three, they are denied as the children will fetch more money if sold separate.

Once on Ford's plantation, we see some sympathy from white characters, and raging racism from others. (Paul Dano) is excellent as the slimy weasel Tibeats,
one of Ford's brutal hands who is intimidated by Northup, and seems to relish in persecuting him. Ford is impressed with Northup’s knowledge of logging and transportation through the river ways; Tibeats is fuming and wants his revenge on him.

When Northup has finally had enough and turns Tibeats whip on him, this leads to one of the many disturbing scenes in the movie where Tibeats and his men attempt to hang Northup for retribution. They string him up when they are interrupted by Ford’s overseer Chapin. Despite stopping him, Chapin lets Northup hang there, with only the weight of his tipp toes keeping him from dieing. There he stays all day, as the workers do their business and children play in the background. This a long shot that McQueen does not cut from. One slave comes over and gives him a sip of water. Ford returns and rescues Solomon. Ford despite his sympathy for Northup, must sell his debt to plantation owner Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) and his jealous and sadistic wife Mistress Epps (Sarah Paulson), for fear of retribution in having a slave who beat a white man. Epps is cotton plantation owner who likes to drink, and beat any slave whose haul for the day is under 100 hundred pounds. The queen of the field is the small and striking Patsey (the stunning Lupita Nyong’o) who picks almost 500 pounds a day. She keeps her demons deep inside, as best she can.

Epps has the hots for her and he prizes and hates her at the same time. Mistress Epps knows that Edwin makes frequent trips to visit Patsey at night when drunk, and she humiliates and hurts her every chance she can get. The Epp’s plantation is a match in a tinder box, and we are Northup as we observe the injustice and brutal life of a slave on a day to day basis, as he was once a freeman and now he is not. There have been may films about this subject matter, but few that hit so close to the bone of it’s subject.

I will echo again how major a role Hans Zimmer's effective score adds so much power and emotion to this movie, with an almost machinelike guttural
rhythm track that pushes forward this film. The scene where the slaves are carted aboard a boat that travels down the Mississippi to New Orleans, I think is the perfect example of how this wonderful composer's score augments the plight of the characters.

There are so many great performances in this film by so many people, and I am sure this was not easy for some to play. Nyong’o is mesmerizing as the tortured soul of Patsey and her scene when she asks Solomon to kill her is gut wrenching in it’s despair. Chiwetel Ejiofor has a trickey role as Solomon, as he must underplay him at times, as his character is trying to fit in, be compliant, all the while trying to figure out what to do. His scene at a burial where he resigns himself to sing along with a mournful slave song is some powerful stuff. Fassbender does a great job of playing Epps as a man who knows deep in his heart that this is all wrong, reverses his guilt in cruelty, uses religion to justify his actions, and knows that he is truly a dammed man. Sound familiar?

I must tell you that this is a great film, and You should see this movie.

Watch the trailer:http://youtu.be/z02Ie8wKKRg