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Sunday, March 16, 2014

12 Years a Slave 2013 * * * Stars

12 Years a SlaveDirector: Steve McQueen
Year: 2013
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars (Click on the rating link to see Cole's on site review)
Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong'o

Written by Cole Pollyea

12 Years A Slave plays like two different films altogether: the first half, a deadening dull depiction of the misfortunes of living life as a slave, and the second half, a captivating, harrowing depiction of how truly awful and unimaginably painful it was for Solomon Northrup and all of the slaves that suffered as he did. It’s a long, long movie, and while it is, overall, a hard hitting, thought provoking, saddening yet rewarding motion picture, there is a lot of noticeable irrelevance in the screenplay that takes us in circles and bores us for a great deal of its running time. Do I agree with its Best Picture win? No, personally, I believe that there were a multitude of great films this year that fit the expectations of a Best Picture caliber film and deserved the award over this (being Dallas Buyers ClubAmerican Hustle, or Nebraska). But that’s not the case; the Academy chose, and here I am putting forth my opinion on possibly the most graphic, mean-spirited slave motion picture out there: 2013’s Best Picture winning 12 Years A Slave.

Solomon Northrup was a freeman. He played the violin and had a beautiful family that he loved, but once abducted and sold into slavery, the struggle to prove himself to be the freeman he was without the aid of the only people who could help was futile and long-lived. This movie is aggravating for the longest time; the above mentioned repetitive, uninteresting first half of the film is enough to turn some viewers away. It shows what it has to, but there is no captivation or zest to the proceedings until about the halfway mark, when it takes a turn that was in my best interest.

Steve McQueen and the writers of this film then transform 12 Years A Slave into a haunting motion picture that I consider to be, possibly, a compilation of some of the most emotionally wrenching, hard-to-swallow scenes of all time. Appearing in an iconic, pivotal role was Brad Pitt (that’s right) who plays a construction worker that believes in the liberation of blacks. He voices his own opinion that, as I took it, marked a turning point in this movie, and I can’t thank him more.

Lupita Nyong'o won an Oscar for her work here, and I can say that I was deeply affected by her performance. It’s a sad, sad world that she lives in, and she, along with the screenplay writers and other cast members, couldn’t deliver that point any more thoroughly. She emotes to an applaudable level and, as a result, I was moved and shook. I’m not sure if she really prevailed over Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle for the award, but her performance was definitely more crucial to the film she was in than that of Lawrence’s. Chiwetel Ejiofor was nominated for Best Actor too. While he gives a performance that keeps the film afloat (and is good), he is nowhere near as great as the other nominees for that award, so I wasn’t surprised to see the film fall short in that area. Albeit, though, there were a number of scenes that he owned; this was taken note of. 

Part of the reason this movie was so hard-hitting, though, was the prowess of Michael Fassbender, the brutal, unrelenting plantation owner who stretches the boundaries of what it means to be a horrible human being. I found myself disgusted, angry, and involved because of his performance, and this is one of the reasons that I found this movie to be “saved” by the powerful second half, to which he contributed a great deal.

I didn’t quite love 12 Years A Slave like I did so many other Oscar Nominees of its year. I recognize the fact that it’s an important historical documentation of the life of Solomon Northrup, and an accurate depiction of such, but it just didn’t move me as much as, say, Nebraska. Looking at it as a whole, though, it is as follows: a long, meaty historical film, a sometimes-dull, sometimes-interesting look at slave life, a best picture winner, and a film that I will revisit merely for the intention of seeing again. Again, though, with a year full of such great movies, I don't quite agree with its win.

Written by Cole Pollyea

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