12 Years A Slave is the heartbreakingly true tale of Solomon Northup, an African American New York resident who is kidnapped and forced into slavery for over a decade of his life. While some of the events in the movie are almost unbearable to sit and watch, the film itself is nearly flawless. With an excellent cast, director, and script, it will be hard for any other picture to come close to topping 12 Years for Best Picture during awards season.
“If you let yourself be overcome with sorrow, then you will drown in it.” This is one of the first lines in the film that really smacks you in the face. Northup lost everything he had when he was conned into the slave pen, yet he persevered. He was devastated, but instead of just surviving with his sadness he chose to make the most of the life he was leading. The script to this biopic is outstanding. It tells the story of such an extraordinary human being, who suffered but never let it show; A person who let hope carry him instead of drowning in his own sorrow. While the story runs over two hours, the audience never feels a dull moment. There are even scenes where not a single word is said, and yet the power of what is being shown on screen moves you to the edge of your seat.
Of course, that has to do with the amazing direction and casting. Steve McQueen is a phenomenal director. Every shot is powerful and has a purpose. There are several scenes in where the slaves are being tortured to various degrees, yet McQueen found the perfect balance between making the audience see the actual abuse and just making them feel it. There is one sequence in particular where one of the slaves is getting whipped for attempting to obtain a bar of soap to clean herself. For most of the scene, you do not see the actual act. You just feel it by observing other people’s emotions or the expression on the slave’s face. Then as the scene progresses, you actually see what is occurring right down to seeing the welts appear on the young woman’s back as she is hit.
Almost every single actor in the movie deserves recognition for their work in the film. It does not need to be said that Chiwetel Ejiorfor will be nominated for best actor for his portrayal of Solomon Northup. His performance is both empowering and devastating. There are several scenes in which Ejiofor is the only person on screen and is dead silent, and yet those might be his most powerful moments. Every emotion he feels seems to come to him effortlessly. You might even forget he is an actor because every move he makes in the film just feels so honest. Another incredible performance is that of Lupita Nyong’o, who is already getting Academy Awards buzz for her work as Patsey. All of the slave owners and overseers are big names in the industry — Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Fassbender, Paul Dano, and Paul Giamati. It is so intriguing to see them play these roles, as it is outside their normal typecasting. That is especially so for the awkward boy-next-door Paul Dano, who is horrifically brilliant as Tibeats, a plantation overseer with a vendetta against Northup. Fassbender is perfect as the drunk and cruel cotton plantation owner, and will send shivers up your spine with every word he speaks. Everyone in the film is excellent.
The one minor hiccup in the film, which is almost worth overlooking, is Brad Pitt’s portrayal of Bass, a man working at Fassbender’s property to build a gazebo. Pitt, who also produced the film, is fine in his role. While his time in the film is short, his role is pretty important to Northup’s story. The actor just didn’t seem that believable. It was not as if it took you out of this world McQueen and the rest of the cast created, but it just leaves you wanting more from his character.
12 Years A Slave is the closest thing you will see to a perfect motion picture this year. The incredible and haunting story of Solomon Northup is brought to life by such a wonderful cast and director. There is no way that there efforts will go unnoticed.