Oppression, Slavery and the likes had always carved its niche in Hollywood and it has undoubtedly earned its position so, thanks to wonderful movies like Amistad, Glory, Lincoln and the more recent Django Unchained. Often coming off as powerful dramas, it was never a subject to be taken lightly unless its something from Quentin Tarantino where he injected his own style in Django Unchained. Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, based on the memoir of the same name, tells the story of Solomon Northup, a respected freeman who gets tricked, drugged and kidnapped into being a slave for 12 years.
Unlike McQueen’s previous movies, 12 Years a Slave can be enjoyed by a casual moviegoer. Its a straight to the point drama; something I had not expected from McQueen. I do enjoy his movies, and although not a huge fan, both Hunger and Shame had its own place in my best movies of the year list. Handling racism and other sensitive issues, 12 Years a Slave could have gone too crazy and some sequences had too but it is the hard truth and 12 Years a Slave doesn’t shy away from showing you how gruesome and cruel things really were. If you can’t tolerate a representation of things that comes close to genuine history then this isn’t for you either. Previously in movies we were introduced characters who were born-slaves but here in 12 Years a Slave we get to see a freeman circumstantially becoming a slave and we get to see the contrast clearly. It is shocking at times, a constant air of dread suspended from start to end and yet making you wonder there’d be something pleasant at the end of that dark tunnel.
12 Years a Slave stars a wide array of AAA stars. Chiwetel Ejiofor is inexplicably good as Solomon, his helplessness, his craving to get back to his family, everything had been acted out perfect. Michael Fassbender plays Edwin Epps and this guy is really becoming one of the most dynamic actors of our times. Already a McQueen favorite and having acted in both Hunger and Shame, Fassbender’s Epps is one of the most spiteful characters I’ve seen onscreen and to imagine the character was indeed real, just EVIL. Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt also livens up the screen although their screentimes, debatable. I was so impressed with Lupita Nyong’o performance, it almost felt like she wasn’t even acting; arguably one of the best debut performances of 2013.
McQueens trademark extended scenes makes a comeback. I was amused to see Michael Fassbender jog for a good 2 minutes in Shame, while at the time it felt both odd and intriguing, it’s one of the scenes I remember even now. 12 Years a Slave packs a number of memorable scenes and one among them: an extended sequence of “the protagonist left hanging on a rope and dearly clinging on for his life” will be remembered the same way the jogging scene from Shame. Brownie points goes for the cinematography where certain visual cues were left to tell a lot. For most times Hans Zimmer’s score does wonders but I felt it a bit misplaced here nonetheless the title theme reminded me of ‘Time’ from Inception.
12 Years a Slave‘s inevitable and imminent comparison would be to Django Unchained but believe me when I say both of them are poles apart. Of course the sheer dread of slavery has been portrayed in both but its the scenes in 12 Years a Slave that’ll stick with you years from now than Django‘s. While Django Unchained entertained me, 12 Years a Slave made me uncomfortably shrug in my seat that makes it one of last year’s powerful dramas.