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12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave (2013)

Director: Steve McQueen
Writers: John Ridley(screenplay), Solomon Northup (Twelve Years a Slave book)
Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Kenneth Williams, Michael Fassbender
Genre: Biography, Drama, History

Premise: Based on a true story of a black free man, Solomon Northup who in 1841 was tricked into traveling to Washington D.C. under the guise of acquiring honest work. There he was drugged and sold into slavery by con men. Solomon was an intelligent, educated family man of some wealth but because he could not produce papers proving he was free, he spent 12 years in slavery on Louisiana plantations.

Review: What an amazing film! It's not heart warming in fact it's bone chilling. The injustices and brutality of slavery is shocking to see. Even more so for a free black man who is ripped away from his wife and children in New York and sold into slavery. The real Solomon Northup after his 12 years in slavery wrote a detailed account of his time as a slave. This movie is then based on that book.

Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Solomon Northup. What a superb acting job he does. He could have played Solomon with rage, with broad movements and strong facial expressions. But he doesn't do that. We learn in the film that to survive Solomon must hide his intelligence and his emotions. There's one very potent scene where after being abused by a plantation carpenter (Paul Dano) he fights back. The punishment he received was too hard for me to watch. Chiwetel Ejiofor gives one of the most controlled, skillful performances I've seen.

Paul Dano who plays the vindictive and hateful Tibeats, gives new meaning to playing the heavy with realistic fervor. I wish he had more scenes.

Lupita Nyong'o who plays the slave girl Patsey also made this movie so memorable and believable. There's a scene where she risk a beating by leaving the plantation just to get a bar of soap. She pleads with the plantation owner when caught that she had to have the soap as she smelled so bad she made herself sick. So powerful.

What I admired most about this film was it's honesty in the story telling and in the production values. Another director might have over hyped it with too powerful of a music score or overly dramatic camera work. But the director, Steve McQueen keeps the production in sync with the nature of the story.

12 Years a Slave, is one of the most powerful films I've seen.