12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013)

Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a New York State-born free negro who was kidnapped in Washington, D.C. in 1841 and sold into slavery. He worked on plantations in the state of Louisiana for twelve years before his release.

Based on Solomon Northup’s novel of the same name, Steve McQueen’s film Twelve Years a Slave depicts most of the horrible moments of Northup’s slavery. As much as McQueen’s previous efforts, both also starring Michael Fassbender, Hunger and Shame were great films, his latest starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Lupita Nyong’O, Sarah Paulson, and Alfre Woodard is a much limited film in its depth and reach. All that is stated with great respect towards the victims of slavery and the crimes depicted in the reviewed movie. With high expectations, the new McQueen film was on my list of most wanted films of 2013 way before it was nominated for the Oscars. Its presence there is understandable since its treats heavy subjects and indulges the viewer to watch the consequences of the crime of a nation. But without McQueen’s mastery at his craft on the technical side, his storytelling ability was reduced as he probably got too much into the subject matter of his plot and got swept away by letting the basic concept of making his character suffer and make the audience suffer with him.

This limits Northup’s development and at some point he becomes almost unsympathetic since he is so passive and victimized. A better character development with a tighter editing and more inner plots would have been a great help to this technical wonder. However, this is the classic case where every technical aspect of the film is more than well executed but his story lacks in real depth and flavor. There’s a sense of the plot being stuck in one place and the story seems not trimmed enough.

On the other side, performances are interesting but still not worthy of Oscars. Fassbender, who I often praised, is too one sided as the evil white man and I believe there were true assholes like him but I don’t see a brilliant performance. Neither does Pitt, Ejiofor, or anyone. They were well directed, but I think that it fells into known territories for a film that treats slavery.

Overrated, yes. Mediocre, no. But it is not the masterpiece that many critics are bragging about everywhere. It is watchable but also forgettable since there’s no real surprise and it helps us to not forget those ugly crimes that were committed in these horrible times. However, I don’t believe that it paid homage to the victims like Schindler’s List did with the Holocaust.

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