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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
I caught this film about a week ago, but I haven’t had a chance to sit down and write about it. 12 Years a Slave depicts the true story of Soloman Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who was kidnapped and sold into slavery during the mid-1800s. It took him twelve years to prove the fact that he was a free man. During that time, he witnessed and was inflected with horrors that no person should have to endure.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went into this movie. A film about a one of America’s darkest periods is always going to bring up certain questions and concerns. Will it treat the subject material respectfully or trivialize it? Will the characters (particularly the white characters) be fully realized or one-dimensional? Will it be gritty or gloss over the terrible nature of slavery. Fortunately, the film hits all the right notes and does what Django Unchained completely failed to do. 12 Years a Slave is arguably one of the more important films made from recent years.
What really sells this movie is Ejiofor’s performance. He truly is terrific. A lesser actor would have played Soloman over-the-top or incredibly preachy. That sort of thing would have undermined the film (though wouldn’t be unexpected given that 12 Years… is a historical movie). Ejiofor goes another route with him being more subtle and quiet in the role. It makes Soloman feel like an “everyman”. This approach makes the viewer connect with him and want to see him through his struggles. I fully enjoyed with Ejiofor brought to the movie, and I really hope this propels him further into the mainstream.
The rest of the cast fills out nicely with fantastic supporting roles from Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch (this guy is everywhere it seems), and Lupita Nyong. I don’t know if it was the material or just the standard of quality from the actors, but the performances in this film are amazing. That said, there are some cameos in the film which are completely distracting, specifically that of Brad Pitt. Somehow, he is just too recognizable to see him in the role that he’s in for a film like this.
12 Years… isn’t a perfect movie. There are elements that don’t quite work such as the aforementioned cameos, the pacing being a too slow (although that could have been a creative decision), a perplexing sex scene early on (at least I think that’s what it was), a few needlessly uncomfortable sequences (though I get why they were there) and some pretentious direction at times. However, all of this is really minor when compared to the rest of the film. 12 Years a Slave is an important film to see, especially if you want an unbiased look at slavery in the United States. I encourage people to check it out. It isn’t a film that you’d want to watch again and again, but it is worth seeing as its filmmaking at its finest.