Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Case for a Dozen Years

12 Years a Slave is good.  Very, very good.

Yet surprisingly for a film about human cruelty, I was not blubbering away at any stage (this may have had something to do with the odd cellphone text alter that went off during the screening which boiled my blood and made me want to stand up and yell - which I did not).  The acts were monstrous,  some of the wounds terrible to behold, and the story incredibly engaging, but even one of my fellow attendees who was convinced she would be crying throughout the film ended up feeling angrier more than sad.

12 Years a Slave follows Solomon (an amazingly expressive Chiwetel Ejiofor) as he gets separated from his family when white men impressed by his musical ability sell him into slavery and he then gets transported down South where he becomes the property of a variety of different masters.

And yes, again, it is every bit as depressing as it sounds.  Solomon encounters a broad variety of people, from black men who will never be slaves to those who are waiting for their "owner" to come rescue them, from white men who see blacks as equals to those that see them as a source of evil in the world.  In a way it is harder on the women slaves: one loses her children as they are sold separately, whilst another (the beautiful Lupita N'yongo) becomes a sex object for her "owner" (a remarkably hateful Michael Fassbender), much to the envy and anger of his bitter wife.

Brad Pitt also shows up for a bit of preaching, but mostly the film lets the action and Solomon's face speak for themselves.  There are many shots lingering on the beauty of the Southern States, and the film doesn't hurry in telling its tale, though things are never boring.

The ending is an interesting one.  Without trying to give anything away, the final scene is oddly less emotional than I thought it would be.  It may have been that it was a sign of the times: reactions were muted as emotion was just not expressed the same way.  The film does try and stay faithful to the times by having characters speak with an endearingly tortured way of expressing themselves.

But that is not a criticism.  The film is incredible on so many levels, its just interesting to mention the bits where I didn't react as I expected to.  And it is nice to be surprised - even if what is surprising is actually pretty unpalatable.

Verdict: 12 Years a Slave is brutal but brilliant.  Not sure if it should win Best Picture Oscar over Gravity, but it is bound to come away with a bundle of awards - and deservedly so.  10 whippings out of 10.

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