After reading the reviews of the film and listening to the debates of “another slave” movie, I finally saw 12 Years a Slave this past weekend. Solomon Northup is an educated freeman living with his family in Saratoga, NY in the early 1840s. A violinist, Solomon is offered a job touring with a circus for a brief time; he jumps at a chance to make a good salary. Upon arriving in Washington, DC, Solomon soon discovers that he has been sold into slavery. His battle to survive begins.
12 Years is a good film with great performances. The stylistic choices of the Steve McQueen prevents this film from being elevated to the level of a great one. McQueen’s habit of lingering shots pull the viewer out of the strong performances. Chiwetel Ejiofor is a wonderful actor but I was unable to emotionally invest in Solomon’s horrible plight because I didn’t get to know him as a man. We only get a glimpse of his life in Saratoga; there are only a couple of scenes with family so we don’t get a real sense of Northup’s life as a freeman. Once enslaved, Solomon now known as Pratt does not connect with his fellow slaves as he still sees himself as an outsider. This distance creates a remote feel to the movie. The heart and soul of the movie is Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o). Patsey, the best cotton picker on Epp’s farm, she is trapped in a hellish existence with no way out. Epps’ (Michael Fassbender) twisted love for her is the source of her torment. Epps is disgusted by his feelings and brutalizes Patsey as a coping mechanism. Epp’s wife (Sarah Paulson) fueled by jealous, tortures Patsey in her own way. Lupita Nyong’o’s presence gives this film it’s emotional heft.
While isn’t a great film it’s still an important one and hopefully it will continue to find its audience.
For another perspective see Cherry Davis on YouTube