Top 100 Films Of The 2010’s – #67 – 12 Years A Slave (2013)


RELEASED: 10th January 2014

DIRECTOR: Steve McQueen

CAST: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Poulson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Adepero Oduye, Paul Giamatti, Alfre Woodard, Brad Pitt, Garret Dillahunt, Scoot McNairy, Taran Killam, Christopher Berry, Chris Chalk, Rob Steinberg, Michael Kenneth Williams, Bryan Batt, Bill Camp, Tim Proctor, Jay Huguley and Storm Reid

BUDGET: $20m

BOX OFFICE WORLDWIDE: $187.7m

AWARDS: 3 Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay), 1 Golden Globe (Best Picture) and 2 BAFTAs (Best Film and Best Actor)

In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery.

 

12 Years A Slave is based on the incredible true story of one man’s fight for survival and freedom. In the pre-Civil War United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. Facing cruelty personified by a malevolent slave owner, as well as unexpected kindnesses, Solomon struggles not only to stay alive, but to retain his dignity. In the twelfth year of his unforgettable odyssey, Solomon’s chance meeting with a Canadian abolitionist will forever alter his life.

 

Steve McQueen’s adaptation of the Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoir focuses on how Solomon Northup’s life is turned upside down from working as a violinist and living with his family New York, to one day waking up to be chained and is shipped to New Orleans with other African-Americans and we follow him on his horrific twelve-year journey in slavery in the South, with different ‘owners’. Steve McQueen has made some interesting films this decade (Shame and Widows) but me this was his masterstroke in retelling Solomon Northup’s tragic story of survival, as we see the ordeal of verbal, physical and emotional abuse he suffers along the way and you can’t help but feel the impact of the cruelty that he received and how this is a small sample we see for ourselves during this shameful period of human history. McQueen takes an unapologetic approach in putting the material from page to film, as you’re made to feel every lash from a whip, and feel the saliva as someone spits verbal venom towards an African-American. There is some harrowing scenes here that stick long in the memory, such as a mother having her child taken from her at a slave auction house, to Solomon is forced to whip another slave or be punished with death. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance here as Solomon Northup is fantastic, it’s arguably his best performance to date as he carries the film on his shoulders as we see him mentally and physically breakdown and having to build himself back up again, showing us a man with pride and dignity slowly deteriorate away as the years go by till you see it in his eyes, until that one moment where he accepts that he is going to be ‘Platt’ forever. Lupita Nyong’o is also great as Patsey, a slave that’s favoured by slave owner Edwin Epps. She brings that extra emotional weight to the film and it’s heartbreaking to witness her story unfold. Michael Fassbender fully commits to his performance as Edwin Epps, with such menace and its a terrifying portrayal to see on screen. Sarah Paulson is one of the highlights in terms of supporting characters as Edwin Epps’ wife Mary, who is just as ice-cold with her malice intentions. A tough film to revisit for sure, but an important and compelling piece of storytelling that’s worth your time.

 

FAVOURITE SCENE: After an attempt to have him hung due to an altercation with Tibeats and his group, it looks like Solomon will be saved…..but due to his actions, he’s left on his tiptoes with the noose around his neck for hours before William Ford arrives and cuts him down. It’s the editing of the passage of time and those looking on that make this sequence really effective.

FAVOURITE QUOTE: “I don’t want to survive. I want to live.” – Solomon Northup

DID YOU KNOW: Before filming their more brutal scenes together, Lupita Nyong’o and Michael Fassbender performed a ritual of “making nice.” According to Nyong’o, “We wouldn’t say anything to each other, just a look in the eye and a grasping of hands. Our characters are in such opposition, but we as actors needed each other in order to be able to go the distance.”

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