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12 Years a Slave Movie Review

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12 Years a Slave PosterIn school we read about stories of slavery and the harshness that follows it. We rarely get a glimpse into what that ‘world’ is like, even though that ‘world’ was as close as 125 years ago. The show Roots may have been the closest form of media that encapsulated the rawness and damning occurrences of early America. 12 Years a Slave may just be this generation’s Roots. Telling the true story of Solomon Northup, a freeman whom was conned and kidnapped and sold into slavery in the 1840s. The film is visceral, beautifully directed and acted, and necessary.

Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Solomon, a fiddler and free man living in Saratoga Springs, New York with his young children and wife. When two men (played by Scoot McNairy and Taran Killam) convince him to attend Washington to play as musician for a two-week gig, they drug him and sell him into slavery. Northup then lives 12 years as a slave and learns that he many never return to his family. Throughout the span of the film he encounters other slaves who teach him how to survive and slavers who attempt to break his will.


Actors Chiwetel Ejiofor (offset) and Paul Dano (Center) on the set of 12 Years A Slave.  Photo by Jaap Buitendijk

Actors Chiwetel Ejiofor (offset) and Paul Dano (Center) on the set of 12 Years A Slave. Photo by Jaap Buitendijk

The praise for this film have been tremendous and even earned nine well-deserved Oscar© nominations. Ejiofor delivers the performance of his life as a man broken but determinant to find an end to his unfortunate predicament. There’s tenacity in Ejiofor that bleeds off the screen; his performance becomes embedded in your brain during a viewing of the film. Newcomer Lupita Nyong’o will send chills down your spine with her supporting performance. She plays Patsy, an object of love for slaver Epps, played by Michael Fassbender. The scenes Nyong’o shares with Ejiofor are powerful and full of awe. Fassbender is, as always, great along with many of the supporting cast of actors, including: Paul Dano, Sarah Paulson, Michael Kenneth Williams, Alfre Woodard, and Benedict Cumberbatch.

Director Steve McQueen is also truly amazing. His long shots, along with Sean Bobbitt, bring a dark beauty to the film; these shots are aesthetically pleasing to the eye, however, you have to take a step back to realize and register what you’re seeing on screen. His extended takes are also marvelous to watch unfold. The scenes of juxtaposition of Solomon as a free man and Solomon as a slave are jarring. McQueen never relents showing the audience the heinousness of slavery; I had to walk away and stop the film at times to catch my breath.


Actors Michael Fassbender (Left) Lupita Nyong'o (Center) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (right) From 12 Years a Slave. Photo by Francois Duhamel - © 2013 - Fox Searchlight Pictures

Actors Michael Fassbender (Left) Lupita Nyong’o (Center) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (right) From 12 Years a Slave. Photo by Francois Duhamel – © 2013 – Fox Searchlight Pictures

While I enjoyed the film from beginning to end I did have one problem with it. The dialog at times felt too stagey. At times it was like watching a play on Broadway. Most of the dialog was lifted from the memoirs of Northup so this may be to blame for the unnatural dialog. However, with that minor complaint, I can’t fault the film on telling a brave, daring story.


12 Years of Slave deserves the recognition it’s getting and should be seen by everyone, though the film can be jarring at times. The acting is superb and the direction is utterly fantastic. This is a film that will stay with you long after watching. This isn’t just a film; it’s a history lesson.

Jonathan Silva is a graduate and current student at Full Sail University going for his Master's Degree in Journalism. When he isn't writing for film blogs like Get The Big Picture or listening to music, he's either watching movies or playing video games. His love for all things entertainment shine through in his writing.