Director Steve McQeen’s film "12 Years a Slave," which is based on a memoir written by Solomon Northup in 1853, is a brutal examination of the horrors of slavery described through the eyes of someone who had his freedom snatched away and was sold into servitude.
Northup (British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor), who is an educated free man earning a living in Saratoga, New York, as a musician, is befriended by two businessmen in a park who propose that Northup’s musical prowess could be a valuable short term attraction at a circus in Washington, D.C. Northup’s family is traveling at the time of the encounter, and after being wined and dined in a fancy restaurant by the two men, he accepts the offer. After an apparent drug-induced blackout caused by the tainted wine, Northup finds himself locked in chains and sent to a slave auction where a somewhat benevolent plantation owner by the name of Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) purchases him, and then transports him by steamboat to New Orleans.
Northup, who is now called “Platt,” finds himself picking cotton as a plantation slave, but just when he thinks that things cannot get worse, they do. Northup has a run-in with Ford’s overseer (Paul Dano), and is sent to another plantation owned by a sadistic man named Epps (Michael Fessbender). Epps and his malicious wife (Sarah Paulson) take pleasure in dehumanizing their slaves and the brutality that ensues is shocking. A ray of light transpires when Northup tells his tale to a Canadian laborer (Brad Pitt), who promises to deliver a letter for him upon his return up north.
The brutality and horror of this movie is at times almost unwatchable; but maybe that is what is needed to get the point across. John Ridley’s screenplay leaves the viewer literally “hanging” for extended sequences which hammer home the cruelty of slavery. The acting by Ejiofor and Fessbender are Oscar quality, and the film is for sure an Academy Award contender. If you can stomach the revulsion of this unsavory time period in American history, this is a must see.
5 of 5 Whippings.