Saturday, April 5, 2014

12 Years a Slave review

There's a scene in director Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave which depicts the surreal horror of American slavery of the early nineteenth century. In it, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a slave, is lynched but not raised off the ground. He struggles to breathe. Against this act of inhumanity, is a pastoral scene of the plantation and the slaves who work around Northup as if he doesn't exist. It's one of many scenes in a magnificent piece of filmmaking.

12 Years a Slave is the true story of Solomon Northup, an African American living in Saratoga Springs, New York. He's a free black man and a talented violin player. He's given an opportunity to play in a circus but it's a ruse by two white men who drug him and sell him to slavery. The film covers Northup's twelve years of life as a slave. Based on Northup's book of the same name, John Ridley composed a screenplay that often tells the story in flashbacks. At first, it's disjointed but as the film goes on, the narrative makes sense and works well. You see the movie depicts Northup when he's a slave but shows us his other life, one that he had before he was kidnapped. It's a a depiction of Northup's humanity. He had a wife and two children in New York.

McQueen and Ridley don't sugarcoat the despicable nature of slavery. There's beatings, lynching and rape. McQueen juxtaposes the peaceful agrarian countryside with scenes of great inhumanity. His camera angles, editing and framing of shots display not just a competent director but a brilliant artist who understands the artistic nature of film. McQueen doesn't rely on fast cutting to maintain your interest. It's his eye for visual that will captivate you. He's a painter with film. Yet, he doesn't let anything detract from the narrative.

12 Years a Slave is the American horror story. It's one that tells of slavery, inhumanity and prejudice. It is one of the best movies of 2013. The grade is A.

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