Thursday, June 2, 2016

12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave; drama, USA, 2013; D: Steve McQueen, S: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong'o, Sarah Paulson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Brad Pitt

In 1841, Solomon Northup, an married African-American violonist living in Saratoga Springs, New York, is tricked into playing music at a circus, only to be drugged and later sold into slavery by two men. Solomon is renamed into Platt and sent to work on a cotton farm in New Orleans, run by Edwin Epps. During those years, he witnesses injustice against other African-American slaves - among others when Edwin has sex with Patsey, cheating on his wife - and tries to escape by sending a letter to his family, but the messenger betrays him. Finally, a construction worker, Samuel, finds pitty on him, informs the sheriff, and thus Solomon is freed and returns to his family.

Based on true events, "12 Years a Slave" is an ambitious example of socially engaged cinema that puts the spotlight on the enslaved protagonist Solomon, and through him the viewers get the bigger picture of injustice of slavery done in that time - one of its biggest virtues is that it makes palpable that unpleasant, disturbing situation the hero finds himself in, and thus instills respect and compassion towards his fate. Director Steve McQueen impresses more through his theme than through his direction, yet still managed to craft a remarkably well done storyline, with several emotional moments (one especially remarkable is the bitter market sequence, where an African-American mother may be sold to one owner, and thus seperated from her children, which causes disgust at the lack of humanity of the slave owners), and gains plus points thanks to great performances, most notably by Michael Fassbender as the heartless owner Edwin, who is also sexually attracted to one slave girl. Brad Pitt stands out as well as the almost idealistic Samuel, who looks and acts like Jesus Christ, and that symbolysm is probably intentional. A few black and white solutions, overreliance on the sole theme and less on the imagination of style and narrative, a couple of unnecessary, crude examples of sadism instead of subtle depictions of the message of Solomon's plight and an anticlimatic ending reveal that the film is not perfect, but flawed, yet still managed to deliver an important story that should have been told, and give an appeal for humanity.


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