95 of 102 people found the following review helpful
on 25 May 2014
What surprised me most about this film is that it is almost a quiet story; nearly intimate.
When Solomon sees his wife after 12 years, he doesn't spout hatred at his misfortune, he apologizes. The film doesn't shout protestations or insults at white en-slavers, it is an endearing and harrowing tale of a dignified man.
This doesn't mean there aren't moments that make one flinch and feel the immense emotion for millions of people who were victims of a vile and horrific business, but it is whispered through the glimpses of the sun-drenched porches- it is sung with the voices of the surrendered and the strings of Solomons' violin.
The film is mostly told from Solomon Northups' perspective, though Steve McQueen often uses his camera eye as omniscient narrator as well.
The cinematography is poetic, sublime and at times magnificently beautiful, even through the terror. There is a scene when our protagonist is nearly hung by neighboring slavers, in a few takes which seemed like an eternity; we marvel and are disgusted by its base, lack of humanity, all the while fellow slaves go about their daily lives in a beautiful summer setting in the Deep South,the crickets humming to the heat,ignoring the injured- nearly hung body of Solomon. This scene struck a raw chord, as it truly encapsulated a perfect depiction of what slavery was; the life of a slave was worthless to most.
McQueen used music motifs effectively, employing sour tones during its darkest moments, which added to the well-crafted artistry of this film.
The characterizations of all the players were superb; Ejiofor, believable and heartfelt in every scene.
My only complaint would be the passing of 12 years.The audience couldn't grasp the passing of all that time; to me,it is vitally important to make the toll and weight of all those years as part of the narrative, as it shaped Solomons' experience.
However this is an historical tale,wonderfully told and not to be missed.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 6 June 2015
It was with great trepidation that i watched this film the other evening due to the fact that i am a an avid reader of the 'American Civil War' and have always been a Southern sympathizer, while fully understanding the impact of the abhorrent system of slavery.
Well, this film by Steve McQueen is quite outstanding and at last Hollywood have chosen a film that is worthy of being the winner of the Oscar together with the other Oscars it won. The film based on a true story has been well documented by other Amazon reviewers so will not elaborate but concentrate on the other aspects of this superb piece of film making.
Firstly, the cinematography was superb and the the music by Hans Zimmer was completely appropriate for the story and for once there were scenes in the film where there was no music at all, which added to the telling of this horrific story. Secondly the acting was of the highest caliber
hence the Oscar for Ejiofor, while the directing and production was flawless. I will agree with one reviewer who stated that one does not get the feeling of 12 years in the film, but this is a minor quibble. Thirdly, this tragic story could have been portrayed in an undignified manner and harped on about the depredations of some of the Southern whites. However, it avoids this trap which only serves to to make one feel more revulsion at the slave owners, slavery itself and bring more poignancy to what is a harrowing story. It is quite brilliantly executed and i am so glad that i watched it as it is a film not to be missed.
Has the film altered my feelings regarding the South in the American Civil War. I must be honest and say it has not. Yes, slavery was an abomination but having said this, it would have crumbled without a civil war due to sheer economics and pressure from a more humane world and scientific invention. The civil war's outcome was to perpetuate white domination when there were many enlightened slave owners, who were stating to grant freedom and making sure educating them was a priority for them. It is only recently that there is a more harmonious society in the South and this in many ways has been created by the Southerners themselves. Many people who fought for the South did not own slaves and were anti slavery but still fought for the cause due to perceived Northern aggression, rightly or wrongly.
DO NOT MISS THIS FILM THOUGH, WHILE HARROWING IT IS BRILLIANTLY EXECUTED.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 27 July 2015
The slave owner was king, a tyrant. His kingdom was his plantation, his subjects his slaves. His authority was absolute, his power unchecked. Such a system was bound to be corrupting and abusive, and so it was. Justice and judgement were arbitrary and random, subject to the shifting moods and whims of the master. The slave was his property and had no human rights, and indeed under the law was no longer regarded as human. Instead, as beast of burden, he was to be owned, worked and exploited for private gain. The wealth and power of the South was built on this great immorality. But the evil went deeper still psychologically. The South sanctified this moral travesty, turned it into a noble cause, and went to war to try to protect it with flag and God and faith behind it. The bogus Southern political claim of states rights and self-determination was shorthand for slavery. If the slave system was lost, the economy of the South would collapse. Thus the American Civil War was fought over the issue of slavery, men fighting on one side to keep others in chains.
Solomon Northrup, whose true story this is, was one of those in chains. He was a free man who lived in the North, a prosperous, educated and loving family man. But one day in 1841 he makes a fatal mistake. He trusts a pair of white men who abuse his trust. They present themselves as businessmen to him, but in fact they are mercenaries working for private profit, kidnapping free blacks in the North and sending them to slavers in the South. Seduced by their charms, Solomon drinks with them. They get him drunk and the next morning he wakes up in chains. Thereafter he is shipped by paddle steamer to New Orleans with other stolen blacks. Thus begins his 12-year ordeal, his savage odyssey through hell.
In the concentration camps of Europe inmates were given numbers, their names stripped from them, a Nazi tactic of dehumanization through deliberate destruction of identity. The South did likewise. Old names, especially family names, were destroyed. Family members were torn apart on the auction block. New names, often demeaning pet names, were given. The message was clear: no longer human, property and worker now, no wages paid, rights and identity gone with the wind.
Solomon is the Everyman whose bad luck leads him to immense suffering. You and I might have been him. In a different set of circumstances, a different roll of the dice, we are him and made to suffer like him.
The film is unsettling. It angers and shames one. Am I really a member of this self-same species? Is viciousness, cruelty, sadism and barbarity really a part of my nature?
The film shows what a rotten social system can do to people. Not only are the blacks enslaved. All are damned under slavery. If the black cotton-picker is a beast of burden in the field, the drunken master with whip in hand is just as beastly.
The cruelest scene for me is when Solomon is forced at gunpoint by his master to hold and wield the whip himself, flaying open the back of a young black woman tied to a whipping post. It is depressing and demoralizing, almost unbearable to watch.
But the saddest scene of all is reserved for the end when Solomon, the broken man in tears, is reunited with his past and embraces his family in the North. Almost no words are spoken. What is there to say?
History is often unkind. We look back in horror and shame. But it can bring blessings as well. The Nazis were defeated, and with them their horrible, inhumane ideology. Dixie went down too, driven to extinction by Sherman and others, and let us forever rejoice in that fact and event.
The lessons are slow to be learned by some. A stupid white male goes into a church in Charleston, South Carolina just a few short months ago and shoots dead nine black people for no reason other than proof and justification of his hatred and stupidity. And the Confederate flag still flies in some places, though more and more it is seen as an embarrassing symbol of ignorance and intolerance.
The film reminds us why history is important and needs to be remembered. Suffering goes on because human nature is unchanged, but at least we now have rational laws and rights to help protect us from ourselves, which is something that God and the Bible failed to do for the South.
92 of 106 people found the following review helpful
on 14 January 2014
I want to put into words how this film affected me, but, appropriately enough, there aren't the words there. Steve McQueen's adaptation of Solomon Northup's memoir is a film in which words are precious and very carefully chosen - whether shouted or sung or uttered in whispers out of earshot of the savage ruling class.
Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free man tricked into slavery. The story charts his ordeal - and those of countless others - under the tortuous watchfulness of a series of plantation owners, cruellest of whom is Edwin Epps (McQueen regular Michael Fassbender). It is a film whose relentless scenes of abuse are punctuated by levity of only the most desperate and solemn kind, and which is determinedly unbothered by the comforts of sentimentality.
Ejiofor captures the agony at the heart of Northup, from the initial indignity of his situation, through physical torture endured, observed and committed, to the brutal annihilation of his character through supremacist re-education. In place of the stock conclusions drawn by Hollywood, John Ridley's script has other ideas: rather than rousing speeches there are bursts of quickly-suppressed anger; instead of soaring emotion, upon release Northup remains bound in the shackles of guilt left upon him by the guilty.
As with his previous films (Hunger and Shame), McQueen embeds meaning in the frame. These aren't pretty images for the sake of it. The burning of a letter represents the dwindling of hope - and yet how long it seems to take to dwindle, and we linger until every sliver of fire is spent, staring ever harder for the remaining light in the darkness. Northup is staring also, unblinking, into the abyss of humanity around him, holding out for some such glimmer.
In terms of characterisation (do we call them characters if these monsters truly existed?), Ridley and McQueen's greatest decision is to give as much depth to the masters as their slaves. Epps is a vile creature, but we are dared to empathise with him as he impotently hands the whip to Northup, under the emasculating gaze of his jealous wife (Sarah Paulson). The object of Epps' violently ambivalent affections is Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o) an angel in a world where the beautiful and the talented are particularly prized for self-sanctified hatred.
So it seems I have found the words to describe a little of my experience of watching this remarkable film. It's a reminder that cinema is not solely a reserve of entertainment, and that the atrocities of humankind sometimes need to be shown to us - nakedly, harrowingly, unforgettably.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 12 April 2015
Easy to see why this film won best picture. Both compelling and brutal to watch. Don't expect fast action, loud incidental music (thank goodness) and heroics in this one, but do expect first class acting, harrowing truths, atmosphere and lots of emotion, and have a box of tissues handy. I find it sad that some have given a poor review because they cannot face up to the shameful historic facts that slave owners could ever have stooped to such depravity and violence directed against another human being. Highly recommend this film.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I'm old enough to remember the fuss over Roots when it was first broadcast. I sense this film was a similarly important experience for a later generation of Americans. Perhaps slightly ill-advisedly, we chose this for a Saturday evening's relaxed entertainment. It's very powerful stuff, and pretty unrelenting. The acting and filmmaking is exceptional and the brutality and lack of humanity is compellingly portrayed. As a film it's pretty much faultless, and necessary viewing, but don't expect an easy time.
68 of 79 people found the following review helpful
on 12 January 2014
No movie that I have ever watched has depicted slavery so unflinchingly and earnestly. The fact that this film was based on a true story also adds something to its gravitas. I felt exhausted by the end of my viewing and there has been talk of people walking out of cinemas due to the raw intensity and the unflinching way in which the subject matter is tackled. But I say endure and you will be rewarded with the extraordinary true story of an American hero and a story that is long overdue in American cinema. There was debate about whether or not this was an important movie in the that country's cinema canon but for my money, considering that there seems to have been something preventing Hollywood and equally the country it belongs to addressing honestly the darkest chapter of their history, make no mistake, this is as important as movies get.
Brave, bold, committed filmmaking of the highest order.
Steve McQueen...I salute you.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 29 May 2015
If you watch this film and feel nothing what so ever then you must have the emotional range of a pebble.
134 minutes of horrific, despicable and shameful events filmed beautifully by Steve McQueen and the acting by all was truly fantastic throughout.
The story, without divulging any spoilers, is about a free black man from New York who is conned, drugged and sold into 12 years of slavery.
I recently read some background information on the actors experience during filming and many of them were deeply affected. I won't say what or why exactly as it would spoil the film. After watching it, it lead me to purchase the book about Solomon Northup.
I love a film that makes me feel and think about it long after viewing it and once 12 years a slave had finished it left me feeling angry at the injustice and cruelty but also admiration of people's inner strength. I have an icy, onyx cricket ball for a heart but the scene at the end choked me up.
Amazing film and one that I highly recommend you watch.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 29 September 2014
On the cover of the film it says "English Subtitle" but when I get the DVD unfortunatelly there was no subtitle available at all. As a person who needs hearing aid this was a complete diassappointment.
on 27 July 2015
Very, very moving story. How can you not empathize with nearly a tear? The film just exudes unspoken subtexts throughout and powerful emotion without words with just the facial expressions telling you what they are feeling. You have to admire Solomon's quiet and mild spirit filled with hope of an end to his trial, which happened in real life from 1841 to 1853—hence the 12 years, based on an actual book Solomon Northup wrote in 1853 after his ordeal. This makes you realize how we can take our freedom for granted. Truly, “man has ruled over man for evil” says the Bible at Ecclesiastes 8:9 Green Interlinear.
In 1841 Mr Solomon Northup was a free man living in Saratoga, New York with his wife Anne, and two children, Alonzo and Margaret. One day in 1841, Solomon was walking home through a park after playing the fiddle for a dance, when two men claiming to be circus managers asked Solomon to play the fiddle for their circus shows for very good money on a tour lasting three weeks and two days. Only these two men were damn liars who kidnapped Solomon and sent him to Louisiana to sell as a slave in the U.S.A. (Unlawful Slaving A''eholes), the non-existent 'circus' being a trap for capturing slaves. It is quite shocking how America really came to be this great nation, In God We Trust being the hypocritical logo on their coins. This slavery secretly still exists today in some parts of the world. On his way to shop and taking a detour (perhaps attempting to escape), Solomon accidentally came across a white gang just about to hang two black men, the look of sheer horror evident on his handsome face.
One thing that is rather funny is when we see the group of black slaves sharing a fire with American Indians; the look on the slaves' faces as they watched the Indians dancing with whoops and yails around the fire! (who are these weirdos?). We see the wickedness of the overseers, masters and slave-owners, although Mr. Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) became sympathetic of Solomon, now surnamed Platt, Mr. Ford risking his life to save this slave from lynching from that slimeball Tibeats.
The religious hypocrisy of these white men was so bad, even subjecting these slaves to sermons of words spoken by Lord Jesus yet torturing them with whips if they failed to collect 200 pounds of cotton a day. The Mosaic Law allowed slavery for specific conditions such as war criminals and captives, but since the “Old Testament” the Mosaic Law Covenant is now obsolete by the death of Jesus Christ, the “New Testament” the Christian Covenant implicitly forbids slavery under the Law of Christ. So these slave-owners were not justified by God in falsely using God's Word to promote their wicked slavery.
The self-righteous, arrogant and evil Edwin Epps was the worst of the lot, even inventing scriptures to justify his appalling abuse and frequently raping poor Patsey who unfortunately became his sex pet. You have to feel sorry for Patsey who only went to the shop to get a bar of soap to wash off her reeking body odour, but Epps wrongly accused her of being a liar, and whipped her to near-death, even citing his twisted 'Christian' "Satan's scriptures" whilst doing so. (This “superior-race” attitude of white man then does remind us rather of the way the Nazis treated the Jews, though not as wicked as the Nazis. But the High Court overruled Solomon's prosecutions of these wicked men just because Solomon wasn't white, so this official racism remained until the 1960s.)
One time a white man became a slave among them as punishment for his drunkenness as an overseer; Solomon asked Armsby to post a letter to Marksville to get Solomon's free papers, only for Armsby to betray him to Epps. Then one day, a white Canadian drifter called Bass (Brad Pitt), who criticized Epps’ demeaning, racist attitude and defended the gentle, innocent blacks, became friends with Solomon, who asked this loving, genuinely God-fearing Bass to do what he previously asked that traitor Armsby to do.
Not all white men were racist.
Thankfully, Bass kept true to his word, and Mr. Parker (probably Solomon's former owner) set Mr. Solomon Northup FREE! Yaaaayyyy!!