12 Years a Slave

Film

Drama

12 Years a Slave

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Time Out says

Fri Oct 18 2013

With the release of ‘Django Unchained’ and now this more restrained slavery-era biopic, much has been made of America’s post-Obama willingness to ‘face up to its own past’. But, like Quentin Tarantino before him, British artist turned director Steve McQueen knows that this idea offers only false comfort: ‘12 Years a Slave’ has absolutely no interest in reconciliation, in forgiveness, in making slavery history. McQueen’s film may be stylistically traditional, but its outlook is as confrontational and uncompromising as any ripped-from-the-headlines drama.

Chiwetel Ejiofor is terse, watchful and remote as Solomon Northup, the free New Yorker torn from his family and sold into slavery in the South. We follow his journey from plantation to plantation, under masters both self-congratulatingly benevolent (Benedict Cumberbatch) and wildly, unremittingly brutal (Michael Fassbender).

As expected from the director of ‘Hunger’ and ‘Shame’, this is not a sprawling Spielbergian tearjerker, but neither is it an aloof, artsy affair. McQueen pitches his tent somewhere between the two camps: whenever Hans Zimmer’s overbearing score threatens to drag the film into three-hankie territory, the clinical photography and hard, unflashy performances bring it right back. It’s a film made for a mass audience, but it doesn’t want them to feel comfortable for a second.

What ‘12 Years a Slave’ is really interested in is creating an honest, believable experience: in culture and context, place and people, soil and skin. The result can, at times, be alienating – Solomon may be a tragic, achingly sympathetic figure, but he’s no cathartic hero, no Django. He is, at all times, a victim. Nonetheless, the cumulative emotional effect is devastating: the final scenes here are as angry, as memorable, as overwhelming as anything modern cinema has to offer.

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Cast and crew

Cast:

Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Sarah Paulson, Alfre Woodard, Michael K. Williams, Lupita Nyong'o

Director:

Steve McQueen (ii)

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