12 Years a Slave review

Steve McQueen
Chiwetel Ejiofor
Benedict Cumberbatch
Paul Giamatti
Michael Fassbender
Rated: R

Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” follows Solomon Northup (Ejiofor), a free black man living in the state of New York in the 1840s. Solomon is a professional violinist and lives comfortably with his family. This changes though when he takes a job in Washington D.C. and is captured by slave traders.

From there on out, Solomon suffers hardships as he is sold to different owners and witnesses and experiences multiple horrors.

“12 Years a Slave” has a lot going for it in its story department, but it’s not without flaws. The showing of Solomon’s story, seeing him go through hardships and still managing to try and retain who he is and keep resiliency is powerful and makes for an engaging film to follow for the most part.

What falters the film a bit is that it could have been extended another half hour or some of the movie could have been cut down and allowed for more. The film is honest and paints a clear picture of the absolute brutality that goes along with slavery.

The problem is that the movie doesn’t really show what happens after Solomon’s experience as a slave, Instead all of the focus is on the horrors that he undergoes. It makes it feel like some of the scenes are brutal just to be brutal instead of leading up to something at the end of the movie. The movie even has captions explaining what Solomon did later in his life. This is one movie that could have used some extra time.

Additionally, while the movie is called “12 years a Slave,” the movie never really feels like 12 years have passed. Instead, Solomon’s journey feels more like a three to four year at most affair. The pacing of the film doesn’t allow for the passage of time to really be felt.

The performances, though, are brilliant and serve as the highlight of the film. Ejiofor does the best work of his career so far. As the lead protagonist, Ejiofor displays his hope, fear, strength and drive to live on and survive his ordeal, which makes for a powerful story to follow.

Michael Fassbender does a good job also, providing a rather disturbing performance, playing a plantation and slave owner. Fassbender is intense and is believable as a man who firmly believes that he is doing the right thing even though he isn’t.

One performance that is rather disappointing, though, is Brad Pitt, who just seems to be channeling the same accent he used in “Inglorious Basterds.” Plus, his character doesn’t have a major amount of screen time. In fact, the character he plays simply feels like a plot device.

I would have also liked for there to have been more scenes with Solomon interacting and speaking with some of the other slaves that he is around. He only interacts with a few during his experiences, with most of the other slaves in the movie just seeming to be extras in the background. It made it feel as if there was a bit of a disconnect from what was going on around him.

“12 Years a Slave” is a good movie, just not an overwhelming one. The movie has some flaws with its supporting cast, pacing and plot which prevents it from being a great picture. However, director McQueen does still put together a well made movie. The technical aspects are all there, having nice cinematography and good costume designs. On top of that, the film examines slavery a great deal and the performance from Ejiofor makes the film worth watching on its own. The movie gets a low 4 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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