Raters of the Lost Art: 12 Years a Slave
By Laura Mooney, Arts Editor
With the Oscars over and done with as of 2 March 2014, now is the time when those who have not seen some of the winning pictures rush to the nearest theatre (or pirating websites) to view the so-called best films of the year. The big winner this year, not in terms of number of Oscars won, but definitely the feel good win of the night, was 12 Years a Slave winning best picture. Did the film live up to the award? Or did we have another undeserved film like Crash on our hands. The only way to find out was to sit down and watch the newest induction into Hollywood masterpieces.
12 Years a Slave is by no means a sit down and zone out type of film. Director Steve McQueen’s sensitive interpretation of the true memoirs of Solomon Northrop, a free black man kidnapped and forced into slavery, is a film that will have you glued to the screen from start to finish. Despite the lengthy 135 minute run time, the film simply flies by. During its release, the film became infamous for showing in harrowing detail the extent of the brutality that was present in the Antebellum south, and had some scenes featuring lashings that were almost unbearable to watch. There was a chance that showing scenes such as this, the film would have come off as just another bloody scene meant for pure shock value, but McQueen presented the material in such a way that it comes off as sad and poignant. The audience was meant to care for the main characters in a short period of time, and McQueen pulls this off flawlessly.
Chiwetel Ejiofor, who plays Solomon Northrop, while having appeared in multiple films before 12 Years a Slave, still remains a fairly unknown actor. However, with his incredibly real role in the film he has now been launched into stardom, gaining recognition from other actors and critics alike, even managing to nab a best actor nomination. Ejiofor plays Northrop with such accuracy it is as though he was channeling the spirit of Northrop himself. Every idiosyncrasy presented in Northrop’s memoirs is translated impeccably through Ejiofor’s performance, resulting in the role being one of the best parts of the film.
However, while the film’s main focus is on Northrop’s life and time spent moving between plantations, with a variety of bosses or “overseers” at the helm, the cast of supporting characters is honestly what makes 12 Years a Slave so fantastic. From Benedict Cumberbatch’s (Sherlock) turn as a compassionate plantation owner, to Brad Pitt as a compassionate farmhand, and Lupita Nyong’o’s award winning performance as a fellow slave, all of these performances add to the film’s atmosphere, but none so much as Michael Fassbender. Playing the ruthless dictator Edwin Epps, Fassbender (Prometheus) creates a film villain so detestable that only meeting Epps in real life could rival it. Admittedly, this reviewer loves Michael Fassbender as an actor and a human being (seriously he is amazing), but after viewing this film it took a few days to view him as anything other than a man with a whip in his hand dealing out lashings. Even on the red carpet at the Oscar’s his face ignited fury in my household. With that said, the fact that this kind of emotion was spawned from a mere acting job, shows that the main thing 12 Years a Slave has going for it is an amazing group of actors that were able to band together to tell an amazing story.
Without giving too much away, this film is more than worth the watch and in every way deserved to win the Oscar for Best Picture. The sensitive subject matter is utilized with extreme care and will leave you breathless as the actors perform the story with absolute precision. All in all, the Academy got it right for once.