If you kept up with the movies of 2013 to any extent, you know all about '12 Years A Slave' and the awards heaped upon it.
Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free African-American living in New York as a professional violinist. After being told of a job in Washington D.C., Northup arrives there, only to be drugged and to awaken about to be sold as a slave in New Orleans.
He is eventually sold to plantation owner William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), a relatively kindly man who treats him respectfully and sees something special in him. After Solomon strikes back against an unjust employee of Ford, John Tibeats (Paul Dano), his life is in danger. Ford has no choice but to sell Solomon elsewhere, for his own safety.
This takes Solomon into the care of Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), a particularly cruel master.
Will Solomon escape and be reunited with his family?
True stories tend to have an advantage come award time and when reflecting upon them years down the line because they are easier for audiences to latch onto emotionally. Naturally, a plethora of other factors need to align as well such as the film being well-made and the story itself should probably be substantial enough to endure the test of time.
Check and check.
The period details demonstrate a lot of care and skill. Plantation life is recreated impressively and the fields, forests, swamps all create a beautiful backdrop, but also a sense of isolation as there is nowhere civilized to run.
We care about the characters not only because we learned about this in history class, but especially because of Solomon's circumstances. The displays of cruelty, compassion, jealousy and contempt all resonate not only toward the star, but we care about the other slaves, especially those who Solomon is able to make some connection with.
If we want to find some fault in the story, the conclusion is arrived at rather abruptly. For all of the struggling that Solomon is forced to endure, the conclusion isn't nearly as dramatic as one might expect. A figure enters the pictures, delivers two monologues and poof.
The performances truly separate this from what could have been a simply good film. Ejiofor is a compelling lead. Nyong’o is quite good, as well, though she doesn't pop up until the second half of the film and seems to disappear for stretches. Her character certainly suffers some of the worst brutality in the film. Fassbender's performance is intense and warrants a literal ton of praise. Benedict Cumberbatch has an important part to play early on. There are a great number of well-known actors who have smaller parts in the film. Have fun spotting them all.
Special features include: a look behind the scenes and a look at the score.
Tough as it may be to watch at times, '12 Years A Slave' deserved the praise it received. Years from now, it will surely still be remembered and regarded fondly, with or without its Best Picture Academy Award.
Add an extra half star to this rating.
Rated R 134 minutes 2014