If he doesn’t win one, Michael Fassbender should. So should Steve McQueen, so should Hans Zimmer. This movie deserves as much recognition as it should get because not only is it a film featuring great actors portraying the best of their work, it also depicts a raw and disgusting topic occurring in a beautiful and picturesque setting. I’ll explain more about what I mean, later on in this review.
“12 Years a Slave” stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup a free African American in the 1800s who is tricked into slavery. Directed by Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave” offers an unflinching depiction of slavery that is incredibly difficult to watch while also keeping the audience’s attention locked. Solomon begins his slavery with Mr. Ford, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, who is the best among slaveowners, which isn’t saying a lot. Reading scripture on Sunday and doting upon his slaves, Solomon appears to have a decent life while working under Mr. Ford. However, things quickly run amiss when Solomon encounters Mr. Tibeats, played by Paul Dano, who will not be usurped by a slave and will use any incident to beat one. Things quickly become heated between Mr. Tibeats and Solomon and Mr. Ford transfers his debt, and thus his slave, to a Mr. Edwin Epps, played disgustingly well by Michael Fassbender, and his wife Mistress Epps, played gut-wrenchingly well by Sarah Paulson. Mr. Epps is a known slave beater and uses every instance he have to mock, hit, or rape any of the slaves that he owns. While there Solomon meets Patsey, played by Lupita Nyong’o, who is the subject of Mr. Epps’s infatuation because she is his best cotton picker and because she is a female. Solomon struggles throughout this film, to remain unseen and thus unbeaten while also trying to find those who can help him top freedom. It is a terrible story and a true one at that.
See. This. Movie. Ejiofor owns the screen and has many shots that simply are of his face in which he shows what an astounding actor he is. It is tear-jerking how he shows the misery that Solomon was facing while also portraying his hope that he will someday break out of his chains. Michael Fassbender is unrecognizable in his role. He is unlike any villain I have seen before, who is just cruel beyond measure. Sarah Paulson is equally unrecognizable in her role as the mistress as she vacillates from one extreme emotion to the other in the blink of an eye.
The cinematography was incredible, often juxtaposing the terrifying cruelty that existed within this place with these beautiful scenic shots. One shot, don’t worry I won’t spoil it, is absolutely disgusting while also beautiful. This shot must have been incredibly difficult to make just for the sheer toll it must have taken on the collective psyche of this filming crew.
Which brings me to my next point. This film must have been hard for everyone involved. Hard for the filmmakers, the actors, the editing staff, as well as the composers. It was so beautifully done and such a tragic film that if it doesn’t walk away with several awards, I don’t believe in the Academy anymore.