Stark, visceral and unrelenting, 12 Years a Slave is not just a great film but a necessary one. The phrase “long-awaited” has been much used to describe this third feature from British director Steve McQueen, which sees Chiwetel Ejiofor alongside Michael Fassbender in a star-studded cast. It’s a common piece of cinematic hyperbole but it also describes the function this picture serves in confronting a practice that endured in the United States of America for nearly 250 years.
Based on a first-hand account, Ejiofor plays Solomon Northup, a violin player who lives a happy and relatively affluent life in Saratoga Springs, near New York City. It is 1841 and Northup is a free man apparently accepted as an equal by his white peers. When his wife takes a trip out of town, however, Northup is tempted into earning extra money by performing for a travelling circus. He heads to Washington with new companions only to be drugged, kidnapped and bound in chains just a stone’s throw from the Capitol building.
12 Years a Slave is a scarifying, unblinking portrayal of life as it was for tens of thousands of people less than 200 years ago. It pulls no punches. But neither does it lecture. McQueen chooses to let all the actions and inactions convey their own message. As the film ends, there is no barnstorming speech, promise of change or bloody revenge fantasy, just a lingering shot of a man sobbing inconsolably.
Source: The Guardian