Moving into more theaters this weekend is 12 Years a Slave. From its official synopsis:
12 YEARS A SLAVE is based on an incredible true story of one man's fight for survival and freedom. In the pre-Civil War United States, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. Facing cruelty (personified by a malevolent slave owner, portrayed by Michael Fassbender) as well as unexpected kindnesses, Solomon struggles not only to stay alive, but to retain his dignity. In the twelfth year of his unforgettable odyssey, Solomon’s chance meeting with a Canadian abolitionist (Brad Pitt) forever alters his life.
It also stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Garret Dillahunt, Paul Giamatti, Scoot McNairy, Lupita Nyong’o, Adepero Oduye, Sarah Paulson, Michael Kenneth Williams, Alfre Woodard, Chris Chalk, Taran Killam, Bill Camp.
You can just go ahead and give 12 Years a Slave the Best Picture Oscar right now. I’d be shocked if there was even a close second place nominee. Now it’s not my best picture of the year, but we are talking Hollywood here. What’s more Hollywood Best Picture than a historical piece about human suffering and redemption with great performances, set design and costuming? Yeah nothing. I’ll start with what I like about the film and then the things that personally bother me about filmmaking (not just this particular film).
The acting is great. Michael Fassbender is a lock for a Best Supporting Actor nomination. You will hate him. He’s charming yet brutal. The good ol’ Southern Boy with a whip. He’s fantastic. I’d pencil in Chiwetel Ejiofor for a Best Actor nomination as well. He captures and holds your attention while he tries to hold on to his own self respect as a man. I don’t think he deserves to win, but that’s not his fault, it’s more the story that bothered me, but I’ll explain that in a bit. Brad Pitt is good. Benedict Cumberbatch is good. Paul Dano is another you will hate! And the more I see from Scoot McNairy, the more I like. It wouldn’t shock me if Lupita Nyong’o gets a Supporting Actress nomination as well.
The story behind the film is both heart breaking and amazing yet frustrating as well. Here’s where my personal filmmaking issues come in. The story of Solomon is ungodly. It’s disgusting that it happened. It’s simply appalling. Yet I don’t have heart strings to pull on. It really wants to make you feel something (and yes I felt something), I just don’t like when films do that. Again just a personal thing. I hate being forced to feel something especially in a room full of people because I might not necessarily feel the same way or feel it like they do and it makes me uncomfortable. That’s just me. There are moments that will punch you in the face, but I don’t like the bombardment. Someone called me a cyborg, maybe it’s true, just my personal thing.
My biggest complaint is I sat there wondering when it would all happen. You know something has to happen for Solomon to become a free man again so I kept waiting and then it just happens without a big miraculous moment. I sat there expecting him to escape or at least attempt more of one. He thought about it, but then nothing comes of it. That’s one of the reasons I wouldn’t have Ejiofor winning Best Actor. It’s not his fault or his performance, but I expected some huge Earth moving event to free him. I expected a huge moment that everyone talks about later on. Like in Roots, the Kunta Kinta saying his name moment. To this day, you still remember THAT scene. And I sat there wondering if his family even tried looking for him. There’s no hint at his family even asking around wondering what happened to him!
I also didn’t like the modern musical score to the film. That’s another pet peeve. You see it all the time now, modern music in a period piece. The Great Gatsby did it this year too. It feels out of place to me. I wasn’t fully sold on the direction either. There were a lot of scenes that seemed artsy for the sake of being artsy. The shot of the water from the river boat just seemed unnecessary to me. All of these things aren’t necessarily slights against this one movie, but it’s a slight against movies in general based on my personal likes and dislikes. Some people won’t even notice or won’t care, but that’s me.
12 Years a Slave is worth seeing just to be able to have an opinion on it. It will get lots of award nominations and it will be compared to last year’s Django Unchained for no real reason other than people are lazy. Some people will cry, some people won’t be able to handle some scenes, but no matter what, it will have people talking.