12 Years a Slave review

The short and spoiler free version:

Rating: 5 (out of 5)
Overall: Powerful and captivating, it leaves its mark on your mind.
Best for: Anyone that wants to watch it.
Avoid if: You want something happy and light-hearted (i.e. you don’t want to watch it).
Summary: ‘In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery.’ -IMDB

12 yrs

The slightly longer version (minor spoilers only):

It was a film and an experience I was both immediately possessive of and simultaneously wanted to share with everybody I’d ever met. I don’t want to say too much about it, rather leave the effectiveness of certain scenes to the collective memory of those who have seen it, and preserve the anticipation for those who have not.

It was entirely coincidental that I came to watch this film with the last film in my mind being Shame, another Steve McQueen-directed film. This seems like that directing style taken to its natural pinnacle, perfectly tuned to realising this film and giving it the gravity the topic deserves.

The acting was stunning, especially from the lead character (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), who had us emotionally hanging on every scene. Supporting cast, whether on the good or bad side, were equally impressive, including Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sarah Paulson and Lupita Nyong’o’s heart-rending performance as Patsey.

The cinematography is perfect, and just as powerful for the scenes where you don’t see things – like Solomon’s back during the first beating. Only when he removes his bloodied and torn shirt do you know what damage must have been done. If this makes sense I’d say the focus is on the pain, not the injuries. Several long shots throughout the film will nearly have you holding your breath with the tension and emotion in them. There is also a fantastic sound overlap for scenes involving the preaching of the Word and the sounds of previous scenes’ pain – it’s clear which truth rings stronger here.

It’s a journey that sweeps you along with it through several shocking scenes and many equally effective smaller ones. You see the flaws and strengths in both colours of character here and the apparent realism of it all hurts the most.

I highly recommend this film. It will almost definitely leave you shocked, and rightly so.


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