Film: 12 Years a Slave
Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o
Directed by: Steve McQueen
Duration: 2 hrs 20 mins
Rating: * * * *
There is a scene in this film where a black slave, with his hands tied back and the noose around his neck is hanging by a tree, with his feet touching the ground albeit barely. He grunts uncomfortably while struggling to stay alive as his toes slip on the wet soil. During his ordeal the other people around him, all black slaves, go about doing their work, without flinching. The camera lingers on long enough for you to realize the gravity of the situation and what life was worth then- basically nothing. At the same time, you also marvel at the way the shot is superbly executed.
12 Years a Slave is based on a true story, the harrowing experiences of Solomon Northup and it also marks director Steve McQueen’s first film to be released in India (his other two features, Shame and Hunger are also strongly recommended)
Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Solomon a free black man, an excellent violinist who also does a bit of carpentry. He is living happily with his wife and kids when two men make him an offer he can’t refuse. They want to hire him as a musician for a couple of weeks, since the pay is good, Solomon accedes.
At the end of the two weeks, he is kidnapped and finds himself drugged and chained. Soon he is sold into slavery and transported to another part of the country where he works for a plantation owner (Benedict Cumberbatch) who is sympathetic but only to a degree. Solomon is then sold to Epps (Michael Fassbender) who is a beast in the form of a man. As history has it, he wasn’t the only one, there were many like him, who believed and even convinced the slaves that they had the approval of the Bible to commit atrocities.
Epps is also very fond of a black woman Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) whom he uses purely for carnal purposes, even though his wife keeps a close eye on him.
The film not only has a powerful story but full marks to director Steve McQueen and writer John Ridley for adapting it well. If Tarantino’s Django Unchained was an action filled drama, McQueen leans more towards telling a human story. In this endeavor, Sean Bobbits camerawork assists him ably in terms of enhancing the visual aspect.
12 Years A Slave may not be easy viewing but at the same time it is necessary as it makes you reflect on so many issues – sure, you know many of them already but there can never be enough reminders of the same.
The cast can be summed up in one word, brilliant. Michael Fassbender as the evil owner and Sarah Paulson as his wife are superb. Lupita Nyong’o, always at the receiving end, makes a stunning debut as Epps object of desire. Deservingly, she’s got an Oscar nomination. Chiwetel Ejiofor has given the performance of a lifetime. As a man who finds himself facing such tribulations in spite of having done no wrong, he is remarkable in the lead role.
12 Years A Slave makes for an essential viewing, don’t miss it.
Published in The Navhind Times on 2nd Feb 2014