Steve McQueen (“Shame,” “Hunger”) takes the incredible true story of Solomon Northrup off the pages of his novel and adapts it onto the big screen in a grand showcase featuring the sturdy screenplay of John Ridley (“Red Tails”) and an incredible ensemble of actors in his latest feature, “12 Years a Slave.”
Portraying Northrup is Golden Globe nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor (“Salt,” “American Gangster”). Northrup is a free man in antebellum America, residing in Saratoga New York with his wife Anne, played by Kelsey Scott, and his two children Alonzo and Margaret, played by Cameron Zeigler and Academy Award nominee Quvenzhané Wallis (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”).
“Twelve Years a Slave” is an unfolding narrative of Solomon Northrup’s kidnapping and forced insertion into the institution of slavery in the mid-1800s. Northrup is initially deceived into slavery by two characters named Brown and Hamilton, played by Scoot McNairy (“Argo”) and Taran Killam (“The Heat”) who claim that they are performers in a traveling circus and recruit Northrup to join them due to his skill with the violin.
Instead Northrup finds himself in chains and subjected to the horrors and brutalities that slavery brings. He is given the name Platt during his time in bondage and serves two slavers during his hardship.
One is a remarkably kind slaver named Ford, played by Benedict Cumberbatch (“Star Trek Into Darkness”). Ford and Northrup have very little trouble between them until Northrup runs afoul of Ford’s slave driver Tibeats, played by Paul Dano (“There Will Be Blood,” “Little Miss Sunshine”), which forces Ford to hand custody of Northrup to the malevolent Edwin Epps, played by Golden Globe nominee Michael Fassbender (“Prometheus,” “X-Men: First Class”).
“‘And that servant, who don’t obey his Lord…shall be beaten with many strikes.’ That’s scripture“-Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps
Northrup soon discovers that the house of Epps is a complete 180° turn from the house of Ford. Both Ford and his wife, played by Sarah Paulson (“Martha Marcy May Marlene”), show no kindness towards their “property,” but they do treat one particular laborer “special.”
Day in and day out, Patsey, played by Lupita Nyong’o, picks 500lbs of cotton in the Epps’ field and she is treated by her master with great fetish-like/sexual interest while Mistress Epps is nothing but cruel to her because of how her husband looks at her.
Throughout his 12 years in captivity, Northrup had to simply survive his ordeal. He can’t run away and he can’t fight back because the prospect of certain death looming in case he fails and he can’t tell the truth that he is a free man who was taken against his will because no one will listen and he has no proof on him that he is free.
The only thing Northrup has is hope that his family is still looking for him after all of these years. During his 12th year in slavery, Northrup finds a Canadian named Bass, played by Academy Award nominee Brad Pitt (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Moneyball”), who could listen to Northrup’s story and take action to make things right but the question is: can Northrup really trust him?
“Twelve Years a Slave” is a masterfully executed cinematic event that needs to be experienced to believe. Steve McQueen blends the exact mixture of finesse and power to this film to really make it a home-run.
Credit must be given to John Ridley’s screenplay. He had so much material to work with considering the film is based on Solomon Northrup’s novel, which has the same title as the film, and he did an awesome job painting as vivid a portrait as possible for McQueen to fully utilize.
The cast does a remarkable yet raw job at giving life to this movie. In particular, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o and Michael Fassbender receive top marks and contribute the best acting performances of the year thus far.
Even though some of the cast are only exhibited for a mere few minutes, including Academy Award nominees Paul Giamatti (“Cinderella Man”) and Alfre Woodard (“Cross Creek”), this film does boast one of the best casts of the year.
The sole constant throughout the film is Ejiofor’s Northrup. The movie is essentially Northrup’s perspective on his experience as a slave but it works because the movie is paced so well, it gives the supporting characters enough detail to make their own impacts whenever the camera is rolling.
“Twelve Years a Slave,” is a near-flawless motion picture. Expect this movie to hear its name called many times on Oscar night, for it is among one of the year’s best films.