Solomon Northup -- once a free man, next is detained as a slave.
Steve McQueen, with his third directorial outing, crafts a powerful social commentary/biopic about slavery, a topic that's been covered through almost all mediums rigorously, but none is quite as commanding as "12 Years a Slave".
Now, a quick glance at McQueen's filmography can make even the coldest person sigh a sigh of sorrow ("Hunger" or "Shame" anyone?). It's a no brainer that McQueen has delivered dismal films and quite honestly, "12 Years a Slave", which is based on a book named, you guessed it, "12 Years a Slave", is no different. You will be uncomfortable. You will squirm in your seat. You may or may not cry; I'm not judging the macho men out there. It's all a testament to McQueen's incredible expertise in concocting narratives with absurdly palpable emotion. The techniques don't feel cheap, overused, or a ploy to simply stir the audience's heartstrings. McQueen delivers an incredibly powerful narrative -- nothing more, nothing less.
Which is another reason to commend McQueen -- he solely leaves the narrative power to the actors and screenplay. I've always had issues with Chiwetel Ejiofor after his disappointing performance in "Children of Men" or "Four Brothers". But after seeing the quieter moments, as he stared off into space in despair, that's when I knew that this is his best performance to date. McQueen trusted Ejiofor. He was unafraid to leave the camera rolling as Ejiofor conjured up emotions of grief and hurt. And what more can I say about Michael Fassbender? Though I've got to admit that he couldn't quite hold up a Southern accent, he was captivating nonetheless. But the real power came from behind the camera -- Steve McQueen himself. He directed "12 Years a Slave" masterfully, orchestrating and juggling different emotions one after the other. As a result, the ending brought a tear to my eyes, a first for a movie, ever. Yes, I admit it. Don't hate.
On such topics such as this, it's real easy for filmmakers to get lost in the depression of it all. The whippings, the harassment, the yellings, and all the hurt can really get to you and as a whole, make the film just feel like a bash fest. "The Pursuit of Happyness" falls victim to this and ends up becoming a movie that is simply about Will Smith's character going through crap. But perhaps the greatest part about this film is the ending. This is quite possibly one of the greatest endings put to film. All the emotions that generated from the beginning of the film to the end culminate and are fully realized in the last few scenes. It's absolutely overwhelming and one that is bound to move many.
"12 Years a Slave" is arresting, a film that needs to be watched and is easily the best movie that touches on the topic of slavery. Even more so, it is a film that is both informative, extraordinarily emotional, and an incredible eye-opener to slavery's mental destruction to man.