#REVIEW: “12 YEARS A SLAVE”
Every once in a while a Film comes along which takes you so deep into dark and uncomfortable emotional territory that you literally walk away from it traumatized and shaken. Such is the case with the ever-powerful 12 Years a Slave, Victor of the People’s Choice Award at TIFF ’13.
After seeing this Drama based on the Autobiography by Samuel Northrup, one – I am convinced that Director Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame) is incapable of making anything but a stellar Film and tw0 – I am certain I will never be able to erase from my mind some of the images seen. McQueen spares no brutality here painting with alarming realism the Portrait of a respected Man, Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who is kidnapped, taken from his Family and comfortable life in Saratoga, New York, and then subjected to a cruel life of Slavery. He changes hands multiple times until ultimately he is faced with the sadistic and volatile Owner of a Cotton Plantation Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) and his equally nasty Wife Mary (Sarah Paulson). Heartbreakingly, we see Northrup silenced by whips and paddles, though he remains resilient searching for his rightful exit over the span 12 horrendous years. The cruelty doesn’t impact only to Northrup though, as we meet others who are treated with anything but dignity including Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) who is tortured in every way imaginable by both an obsessed Edwin and threatened Mary.
As is the case with McQueen‘s Films, they are soberingly cathartic as his Heroes often go through treacherous emotional journies. Ejiofor is devastatingly good in the Lead Role with a supressed intensity which engages us, embodying the pain Northrup had to endure. Even despite a somewhat happy ending through it all, this by no means is a feel-good Affair as we are forced to reflect upon the battle scars our Ancestors had to endure to enable us to have the Freedoms we have today.
Fassbender, who has been a Muse to McQueen starring in each of his Feature Films to date, is fearsome and complex – his still eyes perhaps his greatest gift as they are deeply mysterious; we cannot help but want to know him more. The greatly-underappreciated Paulson also is icy and unpredicable – a commanding presence whenever she appears. Nyong’o a Yale Graduate, is convincingly good even with little dialogue in this her debut performance.
Every bit deserving of the feverish buzz and certainly unforgettable, Fox Searchlight releases 12 Years a Slave in Toronto on Friday, October 18, 2013, with additional Cities to follow.