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.
A TRUE STORY ADAPTED FROM THE NOVEL WRITTEN BY 'SOLOMON NORTHUP'
In 1841 'Solomon' lives a free man with his wife and two Children, he is tricked and abducted,
then sold into slavery.
He is sold to plantation owner 'Edwin Epps' a man of few principles and a hard task-master.
He is stripped of both his identity and dignity, he is even given a slave-name, 'Platt'
'Solomon' is determined not to forget his past even though there seems to be no hope of
As a free man he'd made his own decisions, and had a mind of his own, his ability's are
recognised by an associate of 'Epps' - 'Ford' who actually listens to the views of 'Platt'
and is rewarded with a 'fiddle' an instrument he was skilled in playing.
However the realities of his station soon rears it's ugly head over and over again.
There is little hope for the slaves on the plantation to realize anything but how things
are, however a chance meeting with 'Canadian' abolitionist 'Bass' finally gives 'Platt'
(Solomon) hope for the first time in 12 years.
The film is filled with some extraordinary performances.
Few holds barred in this depiction of the brutal regime slaves often endured in their
world of physical and verbal abuse a constant.
'Solomon' despite all that is thrown at him never gives up hope of returning to his now,
long lost family.
This is an intense and often graphically brutal story.....the horror being is that it's true.
Special Features -
* Meet the creative minds assembled by director 'Steve McQueen' to bring 'Solomon
Northup's' journey in life.
* The Score - Follow film composer 'Hans Zimmer' creating the dramatic Score.
Blu-ray Exclusive -
* A Historic Portrait -
Explore director 'Steve McQueen's' unique artistry in bringing this remarkable story to
life in this documentary including 'cast' and 'crew' interviews.
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.
on 20 May 2014
A fine film - its plaudits were fairly predictable especially on the basis of the subject matter but - fair enough - it's well done. Blends well the themes of brutality, hope / hopelessness, humanity and a legalistic version of religion. The viewer sees that events are occurring in a land - in a mentality - where there is an inherent blindness to the hideousness of slavery.
So why not 5 stars? No spoilers here, suffice to say that I found the ending a little truncated as was the lead in to that ending.
The certificate of 15 I would also say is good in that it will include more viewers but - beware - it isn't for the faint hearted.
on 25 January 2016
It was so refreshing to watch a film recently that was fuelled by clear, precise direction by British talent in the likes of Steve McQueen, carried along with a superb ensemble cast and driven by nothing but a hard-hitting and powerful human story. No expansive CGI; no bombastic soundtrack; no plot trying to be too clever; no invincible characters; no controversial and ego-inflated leading stars…it was a film stripped back from everything that makes millions (even billions) at the box-office at the sacrifice of something worthy and a film that remains more memorable and all the more relevant for it.
You know that films marketed and bolstered by such a sensitive subject, like ’12 Years A Slave’ dealing with slavery, will either be a very mis-guided affair or something major for audiences that will linger with those who see it for a long time. Thankfully this is the latter. Much like the most horrifying factual stories in history, these prove to be…what’s the word...not “entertaining”, but gripping and something you can’t help but watch, and re-watch, and immerse yourself in. ‘Schindler’s List’, ‘Ghandi’, ‘The Pianist’ and ‘Hotel Rwanda’ spring to mind about films taken from pockets of our world’s history of war, genocide, revolution and religion. But none have dealt with slavery such as ’12 Years A Slave’ and without preaching to audiences about the ‘sins of their country’ decades ago, this is simply a film that highlights what director McQueen feels strongly about for a subject that, horrifyingly, still is active in parts of the world today. It’s a timeless film that reminds you about just how cruel the world can be, and still is, to our fellow man.
The film looks remarkable, with long lingering shots on the natural surroundings of New Orleans, contrasing the beauty that the characters reside in to the nightmare that surrounds them, regardless if they are on a peaceful waterfront, a dreamy field of cotton or simply in their quarters. The despair is always evident and you can’t ever relax for a moment because you never know when the next hard-hitting moment will come, as nor do the slavers. Lead actor Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Solomon Northup perfectly; he shows a human torn from an established life to live his future as a slave and he never lets the fire of determination be fully extinguished. He is gripping in his portrayal and embodies all the emotion we could only dream was felt in that era; hope, anger, sadness, dangerous joy and compassion. He doesn’t over-play the role either, and at times when he says little and conveys his thoughts by physical and visual representation, this often comes over more powerful, complimenting his acting ability.
The supporting cast are also superb – from Cumberbatch’s firm but fair plantation owner to the hypnotic debut of Nyong’o as a slave. Not all the characters need that moment to “shine” and be the most important factor in the story, some appear and go just as quick, but they all play a crucial part in Northup’s journey and mould him and his view on the world he lives in. And we can all identify with them at one point or another, and they are a credit to the film and are a joy to watch and feel for. Even Brad Pitt’s brief spell as a plantation hand is important, if a little out of the blue! Special mention to Michael Fassbender for his sinister turn as Edwin Epps; the embodiment of the racist, power-driven evil that fuelled slavery in the 1800s. Motives may change over time but Fassbender plays a character who could exist just down the road from us today; conflicted by his morals and blinded by the expectations put upon him and that lust for dominating those below him. It’s an explosive performance without ever veering into coming across as over-acting or hammy.
The cinematography is beautiful when we see the countryside and small cities with bubbling blue rivers, golden fields and nature that looks like it has been oil-painted on the screen, dwarfing the characters in its magnificence. But the skill of cinematographer Sean Bobbitt also makes scenes uncomfortable to watch, and a shot can linger on a static frame for a few seconds longer than you’d care to see, but the sheer power of what we are watching refuses to let you turn away and these moments make you question everything about yourself; your compassion, your humanity and your fears. Every shot is important and meaningful, whether it is backed up by spoken word or music, and every emotion is effortlessly translated onto screen.
I should now refrain from talking further because I can’t praise this film enough as both historical document and modern day reminder of slavery. It reminds me how much the world has changed in the developing years but also in ways that it hasn’t. I didn’t know whether to feel joy or sadness as the credits rolled, but the tears in my eyes made me think that was a good thing – why should I feel either emotion when this is a subject still relevant today. I was simply taken aback by the real power of cinema and strong story-telling from a cast and crew who obviously knew what they wanted to convey over the 2hrs that didn’t drag at all. A wonderful film, and one I hope you all manage to watch.
It’s not a film that I know will “change the world” and of course some people’s own opinions, but it will just open your eyes that little more and see beyond summer blockbusters and popcorn entertainment and acknowledge a real super-hero on screen; the human that we all are...
on 15 January 2016
In 1841, the Afro-American violinist Solomon Northup is a free man, living with his wife and children in Saratoga Springs, New York. He is hired by two men for a two-week tour in Washington with their theatrical company. However Solomon is kidnapped and sold as a slave in New Orleans with the nickname Platt. Along twelve years, he works in the plantations and has abusive treatment of his masters, until the day he meets the Canadian abolitionist Bass that promises to send a letter to his family.
Very well directed by Steve Mcqueen (and artist). McQueen's style is slow and penetrating with some long and wordless scenes totally captivating.
As a piece of social history, this movie is simply stunning. The story line was straightforward the entire movie showed a character who persevered in circumstances inconceivable to most and kept going and never lost faith that he would return to his family. Fantastic acting by Chiwetel and Michael Fassbender and with a good supporting cast. It came as no surprise to see Hans Zimmer's name appear on the end credits as he is one of the greatest cinematic composers of all time in my opinion. Nyong'o, and Cumberbatch were brilliant in their roles, The last, but certainly not least, stellar appearance I have already alluded to. Brad Bitt plays a Canadian contract constructor who was instrumental to carrying the message to "the North" that finally led to Northup's rescue.
Overall, "12 Years a Slave" was a great film, certainly worth the awards it will surely receive. Enjoy.
Won 3 Oscars. Another 229 wins & 300 nominations.
on 14 July 2014
I watched this film with a sense of anticipation, not because I read Northup's account of his experiences, but because I studied the course of the British Empire of which slavery was such a pivotal factor. There are few accounts of slavery either from the slaveowners or the more educated slaves, and all accounts share an almost casual dehumanised tone that brings home just how much of a way of life slavery was.
McQueen captures that casualness rather well, however the film tended to chop and change too frequently in its desire to touch on all the aspects of Northup's experience of slavery, and this worked very much against the endless days of toil and drudgery that were the typical slave experience (from what few accounts we have). So while the film was almost documentary-like in its cataloguing of a slave experience it completely lost the tone of the relentless day-in-day-out that was common to most slaves, into which punishments were almost highlights (and what a terrible concept that is). It was a relief to see slaveowners cast in shades of grey, the incongruity of a decent slaveowner in today's zeitgeist is an important point made - that even "decent men" owned slaves - and is not an observation about men, but about slavery itself.
Northup's experience was actually one of the milder ones, the American South kept their slaves close to the family and there was more of a personal, but never quite shared, experience of life. In the Caribbean conditions were infinitely worse, and I await the biopic about Thomas Thistlewood with great interest, based on his excruciating diaries of his predatory ways. Thistlewood is however the almost cartoon depiction of the villainous slaveowner and McQueen handles the delicate political lines of such a topic with sensitivity and flair by making good use of the more nuanced environment of the American south to work in.
The damage the experience did to Northup is the point to take away from this film, it was a life-changing experience that led him, in his decency, to feel remorse for his victimhood - he'd deserted his wife, in his mind, as he had deserted Patsey as he was rescued from the plantation - the circularity of that guilt I found very powerful and well portrayed by McQueen. Having come from an abusive family background myself, I found I could identify only too well with the theme of blaming yourself for the sins of others. Ejiofor deserved his award for his understated portrayal not of Northup, but of Northup's unvoiced inner demons that rose to haunt him, probably for the rest of his days.
I would love to give the film 5 stars, however while the sense that his 12 years passed rather quickly could be seen to symbolise the sameness of the drudgery that made 12 years simply vanish, I think McQueen could have made a less watchable film an hour longer in which we could live in those times, rather than flit from cameo to cameo.
I also think it wouldn't have hurt to have had, in the extras, some information about modern-day slavery. There's the possibility that a period piece such as this film might lead some of us to think that slavery was history.
on 19 June 2014
I loved this film, the four stars are just a reflection of the rather abrupt ending and that it left me with a feeling that I wanted to know more of Soloman's life. Sadly the ending was not explored as thoroughly as the rest of the account and, for me, the most important part was added on almost as an after thought. Nonetheless, this is a cracking film and the portrayal of the brutal side of mankind balanced with the need to survive in the face of it is explored very subtly. The postscripts to the film beg an answer to the question of 'What is Freedom?'
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.
on 17 October 2014
A lovely film but very frightening. It made me absolutely cringe when the slave masters kept beating the men and woman with a whip. I don't know how any human being can treat another like that because of their colour. But then it was like that in the 1800s. Thank goodness they bought in a law to abolish all of it, and treat both black and white people as equals!
it has a very good story line and is easy to understand. I think that everyone should see this film.