Monday, 13 January 2014

Movie Review: 12 Years a Slave

’12 Years a Slave’ is one of those movies that makes you stop and think, in particular it inspires thought on the cruelty humanity has shown itself to be capable of in our barbaric past. This story is a seriously powerful piece of cinema that is achieved with acute direction and magnificent performances, it is a story about a truly abhorrent period in human history: slavery. It is one of the finest films of the past year.

In 1841 free man Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is deceived and sold into slavery by men posing as friends. Over the next 12 years of his life Northup toils as a slave on plantations across the state of Louisiana without hope of regaining his freedom. Placed in the unenviable position of having his liberty stripped away, Northup strives to regain his freedom no matter how long it should take.

There is an understandable gravitas present in the filmmaking here, especially considering the subject matter. Tackling the issue of slavery in cinema can only be successfully accomplished when the director has a clear vision for the final creation as Steve McQueen does in this instance whilst John Ridley’s exemplary script delivers just the right amount of grit and humanity for the actors involved to really delve into their roles. Indeed it is McQueen’s direction of the film into a focused character study amid the harrowing backdrop of slavery that serves the story best as opposed to a general documentation of that point in history.

Chiwetel Ejiofor skilfully leads an outstanding cast.

’12 Years a Slave’ is ultimately driven forward by its staggeringly talented cast led by Chiwetel Ejiofor who delivers a stunning breakthrough performance. Ejiofor is superbly compelling throughout the film as he believably portrays the change that Solomon Northup goes through during his traumatic journey to freedom. The role of William Ford is a fleeting one but the work delivered by Benedict Cumberbatch is very notable in spite of this. The character of Ford allows the film to pose the quite difficult question of whether some of the slave owners were simply men of their time as opposed to the out-and-out monsters their actions have made of them, by humanising Ford and imbuing him with some virtuous and moral characteristics Cumberbatch makes the man a believably torn individual whose ownership of slaves is in direct contrast to the otherwise principled disposition he possesses.

On the other hand there is a very different type of slave owner, Edwin Epps, as played dynamically by the endlessly talented Michael Fassbender. Fassbender’s performance as Epps is nothing short of electric as he utterly commands the screen every time he appears, for me he stole the entire film. The character of Edwin Epps is indisputably one of the most captivating aspects of the film as a whole, Epps is a fascinatingly conflicted individual with a venomous temper and a ferocious capability for violence, he is a ruthless and complicated man who deems his aggressive compulsions as God-given liberties in spite of the unquestionably hellish result of these impulses. In a career of stunning performances this just may be Michael Fassbender’s best to date. His incredible turn will undoubtedly earn him a nomination for the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award, and I’m confident he’ll win it.

Michael Fassbender delivers a truly spellbinding performance.

The music of the film is primarily provided through songs sung within the context of the film by characters whilst Hans Zimmer’s infrequent but stirring score supplements the remainder. Zimmer chooses the minimalist approach for his work here and it really pays off, it is a score that swells perfectly to accompany some of the more emotional instances in the film and provides a beautiful sound to match the fantastically shot, bleakly gorgeous cinematography by Sean Bobbitt that somehow manages to maintain the beauty of the American south despite the innate ugliness of the vile acts occurring onscreen.

It is irrefutable that ’12 Years a Slave’ is an important film, just like ‘Schindler’s List’ before it, it illustrates a dark time in humanity that cannot be forgotten about. With less skill and reverence this may have gone down very differently but as it stands ’12 Years a Slave’ belongs in the same pantheon as the most lauded historical epics of all time, it is powerful, moving, and most importantly, necessary.

No comments:

Post a Comment