A horrific era in American history, as depicted by Steve McQueen

By Bryan C. Kuriawa

Based on the prominent 1853 autobiography and a strong contender at this year’s Academy Awards, “12 Years a Slave” is one of the finest films to come of out of 2013. Featuring a strong cast of actors and a fascinating historical tale, director Steve McQueen brings to the screen the story of one man’s survival against the cruelest of American institutions.

Born a free man, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) makes his living as a fiddle player in New York State. Contacted by two businessmen to go on a musical tour, Northup finds himself shackled and sent for sale in the South. Named Platt by his seller, he finds himself at the home of William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch). Yet when he strikes one of the owners, Northup is sold to slave owner Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbinder). An aggressive man, who views slavery as Biblically conditioned, he regards his slaves with contempt, excluding a young woman named Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o). Faced with an uncertain future and the worst realities imaginable, Northup must reach his family, however possible.

Acting-wise, all of the respective cast members are exceptional, delivering strong and developed performances. As Northup, Ejiofor is excellent, as his character deals with the nightmares surrounding his ordeal and everything encountered. As Edwin Epps, Fassbinder is simply outstanding. While his character is a barbaric horrendous individual, Fassbinder seizes the role and creates a masterful interpretation of the cruelest of human actions. Nyong’o is similarly superb as Patsey, lusted after by Epps and abused by Epps’ wife (Sarah Paulson), while trying to cope with the world around her.

Already a strong visual filmmaker, McQueen continues this tradition with his directorial style in this release. His camera work is flawless, capturing the onscreen action and creating a strong visual atmosphere that allows for the viewer to be drawn further into the setting. At the same time, John Ridley’s screenplay is exceptionally well-written, with all of the characters and their motivations being strongly conveyed, while moving at a measured pace. While the narrative does feature several brutal and violent sequences, this proves to be quintessential to the storyline as they demonstrate the cruelty and brutality of slavery and its impact on those involved.

Overall, “12 Years a Slave” is an excellent film that delves into American history at its cruelest and succeeds. With several exceptional performances, strong direction and a well-conceived script, this is essential for any film-goer looking for something worthwhile and compelling in theaters.

Final Rating: 10/10.

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