12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave PosterDirected by Steve McQueen
Writen by John Ridley … (screenplay based on “Twelve Years a Slave” by Solomon Northup)
Music …Hans Zimmer
Cinematography by Sean Bobbitt
Aspect Ratio 2.35 : 1
Camera Arricam LT, Cooke S4 and Angenieux Optimo Lenses
Arricam ST, Cooke S4 and Angenieux Optimo Lenses

Chiwetel Ejiofor … Solomon Northup
Benedict Cumberbatch … Ford
Michael Fassbender … Edwin Epps
Sarah Paulson … Mistress Epps
Lupita Nyong’o … Patsey
Dwight Henry … Uncle Abram
Dickie Gravois … Overseer
Ashley Dyke … Anna
Kelsey Scott … Anne Northup
Quvenzhané Wallis … Margaret Northup
Cameron Zeigler … Alonzo Northup
Tony Bentley … Mr. Moon
Scoot McNairy … Brown
Taran Killam … Hamilton
Christopher Berry … Burch
Bill Camp … Radburn
Mister Mackey Jr. … Randall
Chris Chalk … Clemens
Craig Tate … John
Adepero Oduye … Eliza
Storm Reid … Emily
Marcus Lyle Brown … Jasper
Rob Steinberg … Parker
Paul Giamatti … Freeman
Liza J. Bennett … Mistress Ford
Nicole Collins … Rachel
J.D. Evermore … Chapin (as JD Evermore)
Paul Dano … Tibeats

There is no set of circumstances, no path leading to one becoming a slave that is not abhorrent, but imagine the additional horror of being a free and respected man in America and then waking up in bondage. This is the story of Solomon Northup, a man in Saratoga, New York with a wife and two small children, who makes a living as a violinist.

The film opens showing Solomon living an idyllic life where he not only enjoys the love of his family, but walks through town greeted with admiration by his white neighbors. Yes, the North was free of slavery, but in 1841 even in New York the whites seemed uncharacteristically progressive. In fact, president Obama often fails to be treated as well. This seems to be director Steve McQueen’s way providing contrast between the life he had and the hell he lives through watching it vanish.

A short way into the film I found my suspicions are justified by the betrayal of two white men, who offer out the promise of a lucrative musical gig but instead drug him and sell him into slavery under the name Platt. When Solomon wakes up in a cell, in chains but without “papers” proving his identity and his status as a “free-man,” he soon realizes no one has the humanity or financial interest in helping him. His fights against those who hold power over him only cause him more pain and suffering.

Here is where McQueen shines as a storyteller, he shows us a world where Northrup’s gifts of intelligence, honor and education, have become traits to hide. This is not just true for him, but we are shown repeatedly that a slave’s value to one master can often be seen as a threat to another.

If many people in the North seem overly accepting and courteous, by contrast, many of the people in the South are portrayed as ranging from sadistic to psychopathic.
Brad Pitt is given a part as the only completely likeable white character that appears in the south (and he’s visiting from Canada). This is a powerful film that does so many things so well; the only weakness I found, was that The film is short of characters that balance between good and evil. The best, and perhaps the only, person we see that seems to wrestling with himself over the morality of slavery is the first plantation owner, Master Ford played by Benedict Cumberbatch, who is shown to be a man with a basic sense of humanity. He seems to actually understand the injustice of slavery, but he also is the one that bought, and then later sold Solomon.

The performances by Chiwetel Ejiofor , Lupita Nyong’o and Michael Fassbender are Dramatic, moving and meet my every expectation, but there is a part of me that felt I had seen those performances before. The cruelty of the plantation owner wives was likely the most unique roles in the film, since I cant recall another film that shined such a bright light on those roles. All in all this is clearly one the great films of the year and is likely to grab statues at the Academy Awards.

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