Film Review: Relentless Artistry of ‘12 Years a Slave’

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Average: 5 (1 vote)

CHICAGO – A man is chained to the floor in a dark, barren room. He has been ripped from his family and his freedom, and we watch as he’s whipped with amazing brutality. It goes on well past the point that most films with similar human suffering would have cut to a less stressful image. It will not be the last time that “12 Years a Slave” forces the viewer to turn away before the editor does it for you. Oscarman rating: 4.0/5.0
Rating: 4.0/5.0

With “12 Years a Slave,” Steve McQueen chronicles the horror of slavery in ways that haven’t been seen on film before. It is an important film, one that should turn its creator and star into household names during awards season. It is relentless in its intensity and yet the film walks a fine line between realism and the filmic vision of its creator. The sheer power of the performances capably transport viewers to a place that most of us can’t even comprehend but the fingerprints of the filmmaker can often be seen on the final product, blurring the line between reality and art.

StarRead Brian Tallerico’s full review of “12 Years a Slave” in our reviews section.

Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) was living as a free man when he was drugged and sold into slavery. For more than a decade, he struggled against the sin of slavery, facing unimaginable horrors that tested his resilience and very humanity. Early protestations of his freedom were met with beatings. His name was stolen from him. He was forced into deadly working conditions, used against his fellow slaves, and pushed beyond the point where most of us would break. And, of course, he was not alone. “12 Years a Slave” is both one man’s story and an overall chronicle of one of the darkest chapters in American history. This is our past, one in which men saw other people as property, and it has arguably never been presented in such stark, unrelenting horror.

Much as in Michael Fassbender’s incredibly physical performances in McQueen’s “Hunger” and “Shame,” Chiwetel Ejiofor was asked to be completely fearless here and he fulfills all the promise of those who have long-proclaimed him one of cinema’s best-kept secrets. He could win an Oscar for his work as he so subtly portrays a man forced to bend but unwilling to break. Ejiofor’s work is the best thing about the film, adding layers of subtlety through performance to John Ridley’s script. Ejiofor’s not given a lot of dialogue, as slaves were often whipped just for speaking, but he does so much with his eyes and body language to convey Solomon’s inner and outer torture. And the few big moments of expression that the script allows him are presented without melodrama.

StarContinue reading for Brian Tallerico’s full “12 Years a Slave” review.

“12 Years a Slave” stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, Paul Dano, Sarah Paulson, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Brad Pitt. It was written by John Ridley and directed by Steve McQueen. It opens in Chicago on October 18, 2013, and is rated R.

12 Years a Slave
12 Years a Slave
Photo credit: Fox Searchlight

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