Director: Steve Mcqueen,
Stars: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Fassbender, Paul Dano, Lupita Nyong’o
12 minutes of heartbreak… Plus another 120
Steve Mcqueen is proving himself to be a director to look out for. I wasn’t a huge fan of his debut, Hunger, as I found it too pro-IRA and slow. However, I thought that the directing was pretty outstanding and it had a distinct style. Shame is a film I’ve yet to see, but I’ve heard plenty of rave reviews. 12 Years a Slave looks to be Mcqueen’s masterpiece. It’s film-making at it’s most effective and powerful. I cam away from the film feeling incredibly moved as I sat there in silence along with the rest of the crowd as the credits came up. 12 Years a Slave dares to bare all in a way that most mainstream films would be afraid of doing. Mcqueen shows all the unflinching brutality to create an overwhelming sense of power. I’m used to watching harrowing and depressing films, but these are normally little known like, Dancer in the Dark and The Seventh Continent. 12 Years a Slave is very much mainstream, yet I still found it incredibly harrowing and brutal. Mainstream audiences are go to in for a nasty shock.
The film itself has the look of a classic. Like other modern masterpieces such as, There Will Be Blood and Black Swan, the film looks grainy and the cinematography is quite beautiful. You can almost feel the scorching sun dripping off the screen. The directing is near perfection. Mcqueen goes for an art house vibe without over doing it. He keeps the camera deathly still when filming most of the brutality, such as the unflinching whipping of Solomon near the beginning of the film. This distance adds an added emotional punch for the audience as we’re forced to feel every lash on his back. Equally as uncomfortable is the scene where Solomon has been left to hang and we’re forced to watch him trying to stand on his tip toes for what feels like an eternity.
Another impressive aspect of the film is the stellar performances. Chiwetel is hugely convincing in the lead as the wrongly enslaved Solomon Northup. We feel his pain as he’s able to draw such emotion without even saying a word. Michael Fassbender is astounding as the evil plantation owner who treats his slaves as the vermin of the Earth. Fassbender manages to pull off a convincing deep south accent, although his Irish twang is very much still trying to come out. Lupita is also distressing to watch as the slave who has lost all hope, she especially impresses in the greatest scene of the film (more on that later). The supporting cast are all brilliant also. Paul Dano is deliciously evil and Benedict Cumberbatch offers a rare glimpse of humanity among the rich slave owners.
12 Years a Slave is a film not to enjoy, but to endure. Many people would fail to see the point in going to see a film which isn’t entertaining in the slightest, but I’m not one of those people. I love films which are brave, powerful and deeply emotional. The story of Solomon is a grippingly harrowing one and Steve Mcqueen forces you to watch some disturbing, yet important scenes and directs with a shattering sense of realism. The stand-out moment in the film for me was the whipping of Patsey. This scene possesses so much power and it’s enough to break your heart. Mcqueen directs the scene in one long take and the emotion of it all is almost too much to bear. The grisly effects make is all the more harrowing.
Another thing I loved about the film was the fantastic music. It’s unsettling at times, whether it be the strange drum music on the slave boat or the haunting lyrics to Paul Dano’s solo song. However, the main score is the most shattering and only served to elevate the raw emotion it portrays on the screen. It came as no surprise to see Hans Zimmer’s name appear on the end credits as he is one of the greatest cinematic composers of all time in my opinion.
12 Years a Slave is not an easy film to watch, but it’s an important one. If you don’t feel deeply moved or depressed when it’s finished, then you must be Edwin Epps. It’s all the more tragic that this film is true and something like this happened for a long time. It could’ve very easily become sentimental in its last emotional scene, but Mcqueen made it feel real and removed all the Hollywood gloss to create much more of an impact. It won the best picture Oscar and deservedly so. I can’t help but feel that it should’ve won more though and it’s shocking to see that it wasn’t even nominated for best cinematography. 12 Years a Slave is harrowing cinema at its very best. Even if you just see it once. Be sure to see it.