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LFF 2013: 12 Years A Slave | reviews, news & interviews

LFF 2013: 12 Years A Slave

LFF 2013: 12 Years A Slave

Steve McQueen’s third feature is a heartrending account of American slavery

The racial divide: Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o and Chiwetel Ejiofor in '12 Years A Slave'Francois Duhamel

One of this year’s Oscar contenders, Lincoln, covered the ending of the American Civil War as it played out in the comfortable confines of the Capitol. 12 Years a Slave, an exceptional film that will surely be in the running next year, reveals the “fearful ill” that set the country alight in the first place.

It’s based on a true story that is shocking even for antebellum America, of a free man from upstate New York, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South. Compared to Steve McQueen’s previous films, Hunger and Shame, the narrative style is conventional and straightforward, the director understanding that this history needs no embellishment, no interpretation, that just the raw telling of it will cut us to the quick.

Scenes in which Northup and other slaves are beaten make your eyes water and anger rise in your throat; when he is left hanging from a tree, only his toes on the grass saving him from death, McQueen holds the moment so long that it’s almost unbearable.

Rather than the gleeful gratuitousness that Tarantino employed in Django Unchained, there is reason to this assault on our senses, as McQueen’s sequences present a subtle range of emotional responses to such cruelty and injustice, in both black and white characters.

Ejiofor's performance is typically unshowy yet subtle, conveying a dignity and humanity that the film needs in the face of such unfathomable injustice. He's well supported by Michael Fassbender's and Benedict Cumberbatch's very different slave owners, the heartbreaking Lupita Nyong’o as a fellow slave, and Brad Pitt in a key cameo.

Scenes in which Northup and other slaves are beaten make your eyes water and anger rise in your throat


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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