The best thing, worst thing, and main thing about “12 Years a Slave in about the time it takes to watch the trailer.
There are some stories that just need to be told. This is one of them
“12 Years A Slave” is the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black American in the mid 1800s who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the south. The movie is based on his autobiography published over 150 years ago and presents in brutal detail the life of a slave during that time. And when I say brutal, I mean brutal. This is a tough watch, but such an important one as we continue to deal with our recent past as a country and the way we treated people just because their skin was a different hue.
Man, what an incredible movie. Chiwetel Ejiofor (CHOO-it-tell EDGE-ee-oh-for) gives an astounding performance as Northup with many amazing actors and actresses filling in the roles around him. Notably Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti and Benedict Cumberbatch just to name a few of the standouts. But the best thing about this flick is the powerful story at the center as this kidnapped man experiences so many different and painful aspects of what slavery was like in the 1840s. The movie moves purposefully and potently through some of the most painful reminders of how unthinkably cruel we can be to each other while at the same time shining a light on what hope looks like in the darkest of nights. It’s one of those movies that refuses to flinch at the truth and as such, be warned there is some graphic torture involved that will certainly make you squeemish, as well it should.
As far as negatives go, there really isn’t much. I did have a slight issue with the ponderous nature of some of these scenes so we will call those the worst thing. It was obviously a directorial decision to linger for longer than we are used to on specific shots, with many of them lasting minutes without any cuts or significant change. In a few cases this worked brilliantly, emphasizing desperation or loneliness, but in some it just felt overly artsy and a bit full of itself. I think the effect could have been used more judiciously with better effect. I also wonder if there is a mixed message here about the injustice of slavery. Are we meant to be more offended and put off that our protagonist is a “free man” kidnapped into slavery? Isn’t the level of “injustice” the same whether or not you started as a free northerner or not? I think the movie does actually subtly point out this conundrum and I know they were working with the material they had, but still it sat wrong with me just a bit.
At the end of the day though, “12 years a Slave” is an incredibly compelling and valuable piece of film. The true story is powerful and well told even if it does get a bit ponderous here and there. I still give it a solid A-.
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