The measure of a great film is one that not only entertains, but also allows a degree of discussion to happen between audiences about the messages of those films. One film that has caused a lot of discussion in the masterpiece 12 Years a Slave. While not in any way a perfect film, 12 Years a Slave is a masterfully constructed film with some brilliant performances included.
Chiwetel Ejiofor carries the film like it was his own personal story. He is soft and sensitive, but strong and willful at the same time throughout the film. Ejiofor gives a performance we can compare as one of the best leading male performances in recent years. Definitely the performance to beat at the Academy Awards. At this point I cannot imagine anyone else playing Solomon Northup and doing the man justice.
In the supporting vein, the film has many memorable performers who contribute significantly to Northup’s plight. The most memorable of all is Michael Fassbender, who clocks in another great collaboration with Steve McQueen. Edwin Epps is one of the more memorable villains – he can be held up in the rafters of great movie villains along with Anton Chigurgh (Javier Bardem), Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) and The Joker (Heath Ledger). Lupita Nyong’o is good as suffering slave Patsey, but the “beautiful ingénue who goes through hell” card was played to hell and back with Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables last year. Sarah Paulson was brilliant as the cruel wife of Edwin Epps, and Benedict Cumberbatch continues his global domination with his role as a quiet and kind-hearted plantation manager who initially purchases Northup.
The problem with this film is that McQueen seems to never quite connect with the subject matter. It feels very cold and brutal at times, which can be a blessing and a curse. The film also fails somewhat in showing the length of time that Northup was enslaved. It feels as if McQueen didn’t exactly manage to show us the scope and duration of Northup’s ordeal. The concept of time is absent for most of the film, which makes the film slightly flawed.
In conclusion, I need to say that 12 Years a Slave is a fantastic film. It is beautifully filmed and the costumes and set pieces are perfect in conveying the look of the antebellum days of slavery in the USA. This is definitely a contender for best film of the year, and a win for Best Picture is certainly a good reward for such an interesting and controversial film.