With award season looming large and its headlines gathering momentum, many films are on the final hurdle of trying to get over the line of trying to get the attention of The Academy. 12 Years a Slave is one that simply doesn’t have to do any of this. This film stands alone all by itself. It is fantastically directed by Steve McQueen, a man who can’t seem to set a foot wrong so far in his film career. Aided by a brilliant cast that includes Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and a star in the making; Lupita Nyong’o who plays the role of Patsey in one of the most superb debuts in film for a long long time.
Based on the 1853 memoir of the same name, 12 Years a Slave is the heart-breaking story of Solomon Northup; a free negro who is lured away from his family, drugged and sold as a slave, remaining one for, as the title suggests, twelve years. A heart-breaking story and its one that Ejiofor absolutely perfects. Here is a man who is free when it wasn’t possible for many men of his own race. Of course he is devastated when he is captured, he doesn’t know what to do other than to explain to his captors that he is in fact an innocent man, and not that it does any good. Over the course of the film, he is bought and sold like a piece of meat by greedy plantation owners. He protests vehemently yet after a while he almost concedes that he is trapped. The resignation is always in his eyes, yet what this film doesn’t do is make Solomon Northup out to be some type of hero. The desolation in his face remains throughout the film and it is credit to Ejiofor for creating it, and also for McQueen for implementing it. We do feel sorry for Solomon, of course we do, but Ejiofor holds it back just that little bit to make us believe his character.
This is McQueen’s and Fassbender’s third film together after Hunger and Shame, and the formula seems to be working. Fassbender is absolutely flawless in his portrayal of the callous Epps. He treats Solomon terribly and the rest of the slaves atrociously, including the innocent Patsey, who he treats as his prize possession due to her fantastic ability in working on the plantation. Yet, we must remember she is a slave and is sexually abused by Epps and in the film’s most gruesome scenes is horrendously whipped by him for disappearing. Not a scene for the faint hearted.
So why go and watch 12 Years a Slave? This is a story that is not to be missed out on. With a simple yet harrowing story, an even better cast and some mighty fine direction from Steve McQueen, this film could be the one to make waves at the upcoming awards.