12 Years a Slave (2013)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on November 3, 2013 @ tonymacklin.net.

12 Years a Slave is not a game.

A television ad promoting it declares, "Critics are calling 12 Years a Slave a 'Game-Changing Movie Event.'"

Critics never said that. One guy -who the studio has probably taken out to dinner - came up with that beauty.

Slavery is not a game.

The movie is not a game.

The Black Mamba Kobe Bryant doesn't come dribbling across the screen.

Was Spielberg's Schindler's List (1993) a game-changer about the Holocaust?

12 Years a Slave is an earnest, melodramatic story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), an actual free African-American, who lived in New York with his family in 1841.

On a trip to Washington, Solomon is kidnapped and shipped into slavery in the South.

Obviously, his life becomes a constant ordeal. The music tells us so.

And, boy, does it tell us. And tell us.

12 Years a Slave is powerful cinema, but almost all the characters are one-dimensional, if not caricatures. Only Solomon and - in a limited role - plantation owner William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) seem real human beings.

When Canadian carpenter Bass arrives to save the day with preachy language, it's good he's played by producer/celebrity actor Brad Pitt. Pitt is able to get away with dialogue another actor couldn't.

Director Steve McQueen does not leave room for subtlety. He and screenwriter John Ridley - who wrote the screenplay from Northup's book - spell it all out. Everything is whipped up. McQueen does have one moment of discretion when he poses a group of naked actors and actresses discreetly. Be careful about frontal nudity. He used it all up in his previous film Shame (2011).

McQueen hangs everything else out.

Hans Zimmer creates the hyperactive music. It emphasizes and reemphasizes. It shoves and pounds. It steers and announces. Even the rattle of chains has music behind it.

Chiwetel Ejiofor renders a substantial performance as the enslaved Solomon, who is trying to cling to dignity.

McQueen veteran Michael Fassbender is the cruel plantation owner Edwin Epps, "a man of hard countenance" who quotes scripture. Of course, he does.

His cruel wife is played cruelly by Sarah Paulson. They make a cruel couple.

There is little truth to the rumor that for Christmas Santa's elves are making "12 Years a Slave -the Game."

© 2000-2024 Tony Macklin