Sunday 26 January 2014

12 Years a Slave Movie Review!!!

The worst thing to ever happen to man is man, proven time and time again. This is essential cinema, read on to find out why!

Okay folks, sorry for the ridiculous delay between posts.  Things have been a little bit crazy with Christmas and now Chinese New Year just around the corner.  So a lot of movie reviews to write and very little time to do it in.  Hope you enjoyed our year-end podcast special.  Now let’s get on with this review.

Unless you’ve been enslaved yourself over the last few months, chances are that you’ve heard of this movie.  Winning the Golden Globe for best motion picture drama and now nominated for best motion picture Oscar 2014, it’s not hard to see why.

Chiwetel Ejiofor (don’t ask me how that’s pronounced) stars as Solomon Northup.  

A true story based on the memoirs of the real Solomon Northup set in 1841 when there was a very unusual dichotomy between different American states.  Black people could be born free in New York, as indeed Solomon Northup was.  

A respected, skilled carpenter and fiddle player, he was given an opportunity to make some good money performing with a circus while his wife and children were away.  Drugged and double-crossed, he wakes to find him self in chains.  It soon becomes apparent that he has been sold into slavery.  We join Solomon Northup as he endures a living hell, made all the more unbearable given that he was once a free man.  Many of the slaves he meets along the way know no better, they are born into a life of slavery.  Having once known freedom to then have it taken away from you; Solomon’s experience must have been all the more devastating.

Forced to work on cotton fields, under the permanent threat of violence and death, Solomon’s soul is crushed repeatedly to a point where most men would have just given up and died.  

His ownership changes hands several times during the course of the 12 years, Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch); the reluctant slave keeper is the first.  It’s obvious he is torn between his duty as a slave keeper and his moral compass of what is right and wrong.  Things reach their lowest under the ownership of Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender).  An evil man who believes it is his god given right to keep slaves.  Epps finds himself developing a perverted attraction to one of his female slaves, Patsey played by the magnificent Lupita Nyong’o.

Will Solomon ever be reunited with his family, or will his memoires and story be all that manages to find its way out to the masses?  Watch to find out.

Enjoyed is not the right word to use when talking about this movie.  What I should say is that this is a good movie, compelling cinema about a time in history that we would rather forget.  But don’t forget, the beast that was slavery spanned a more than significant 400 years.

I had heard all manner of things before I saw this movie.  That audiences were sickened by the brutal displays of violence, even if they were toned down from the descriptions in Solomon’s book.  With a powerful story and reports of outstanding performances, of course I had high expectations.  Were those expectations met?  More or less I would say.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a very good film and I would fully recommend it to anyone that is a fan of serious powerful cinema.  But for whatever reason, it just fell shy of my expectations as did the impact it had on me.  I tried to explore why this might be so.  I think the answer lies in the fact that the movie depicts true events, not events manufactured and strategically crafted by Hollywood to evoke an emotional response, something which Hollywood is a true expert at. 

I did wonder why Solomon never really tried to escape, would it be that hard?  Over 12 years, was there really never an opportunity to escape?  Watching 12 Years a Slave, you have to remind yourself that what you are watching is not just cinema but also history.  Only then can you begin to comprehend the horror.  This is also why Solomon never turns into Rambo, kills all the bad guys and fights his way to freedom. 

I found the movie to be less affecting and haunting than Django Unchained or The Shawshank Redemption, two other movies about the limits of human suffering, perseverance and triumph against the odds.  Whereas 12 Years is powerful because it’s true, Django and Shawshank were powerful because of how they were written and directed.  Django left me thinking for days.  Some of the imagery that Tarantino managed to direct and capture, especially one specific scene towards the end featuring Christoph Waltz, really affected me and lingered on my mind uncomfortably for days.  Shawshank also managed to more effectively portray the duration of suffering the lead protagonist had to endure.  In 12 Years I never felt like 12 years had actually passed, it felt more like a terrible one year.

Django for me is a more haunting and affecting tale of slavery, with 12 Years a Slave coming in a close second.  Shawshank, however, remains the ultimate tale of human endurance.

This is an excellent and powerful lesson in history, perhaps not the absolute best in terms of similarly themed movies, but essential cinema nonetheless.

Highly recommended despite Brad Pitt’s presence.  Almost forgot to mention him.  Yes his character is a good one, but his performance is still wooden and by the numbers.

Rating 4.5 out of 5


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