12 Years A Slave, a historical drama based on Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoir by the same name, is a hard-hitting, utterly moving and important film. It tells the true-life tale of a free man from upstate New York who was abducted and sold into slavery, something which apparently happened with great regularity in the antebellum United States. Northup spent twelve years in captivity, away from his wife and children, doomed to an existence of horror and hardship. This is director Steve McQueen’s third directorial effort and it’s another film that has something to say and doesn’t shun away from harsh truths.
Much can be said about 12 Years A Slave‘s plot, but it wouldn’t do it justice. Most viewers will be familiar with the hellish existence of slaves, the constant abuse and degradation these people were subjected to, their constant fight for survival. But reading or hearing about it, doesn’t hit home as much as actually seeing it happen. McQueen shows the atrocities and savage madness in all their “glory” and it’s truly affecting, never preachy. It’s a hard movie to watch, but this is what happened, it’s part of our history, and it’s important we don’t ever forget.
Apart from the fact this is an incredibly well-crafted film, the performances deserve special mention. The picture’s lead Chiwetel Ejiofor pulls you into the film and never lets you go, effectively portraying Solomon’s various emotional states: his confusion when he’s taken away from his family, his desperation that follows shortly after and his frantic fight for survival which means he has to do away with his pride, sense of self and his past. Despite everything Solomon’s light of hope never really dies out, which makes Ejiofor’s performance incredible: there’s always something in his eyes that shows us he won’t be broken, no matter how hard the slavers try. 12 Years A Slave‘s supporting cast is top-tier too: Michael Fassbender, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano and all the others deliver dazzling turns, some kind, most downright despicable and terrifying. But it’s Lupita Nyong’o who steals every scene she’s in. She plays Patsey, a slave girl owned by Fassbender’s cotton plant owner, and Nyong’o is equal parts strong, brittle, brave and lost. It’s her first turn in a major motion picture and there’s no doubt she has a great acting career ahead of her.
12 Years A Slave is one of the best films in recent history and it’s an instant classic. It deserves to take home every Academy Award it’s been nominated for, not only because every aspect of the film is top-notch, but because it’s actually important the film and its subject matter aren’t forgotten about. 10/10