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|12 Years a Slave|
dir Steve McQueen
scr John Ridley
prd Dede Gardner, Anthony Katagas, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen, Arnon Milchan, Brad Pitt, Bill Pohlad
with Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, Paul Dano, Lupita Nyong'o, Adepero Oduye, Sarah Paulson, Garret Dillahunt, Paul Giamatti, Michael Kenneth Williams, Alfre Woodard
release US 18.Oct.13, UK 24.Jan.14
13/US Regency 2h13
Yes, master: Ejiofor and Fassbender
TORONTO FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
Based on a chilling true story, this film is much more than an account of slavery in America: it's an exploration of the human urge to control and enslave people. And with fearlessly intense performances and director McQueen's artful eye, we are immersed in the story completely.
Solomon Northrup (Ejiofor) is a violinist and family man in 1841 Saratoga, New York. When two friendly men offer him a job he has no reason to be suspicious. But they sell him to slave traders who ship him to New Orleans, where he's stripped of his identity and sold to Ford (Cumberbatch), a benevolent master who puts him to work under the watchful eye of Tibeats (Dano). Later Solomon is transferred to Epps (Fassbender), a harsher master who sends him to the cotton fields and reacts sharply when he suspects this new slave might be educated.
Northrup published his memoir shortly after his release in 1853, and the title also hints at the ending, but how it happened is astonishing. There's a clear sense that Ridley's script and McQueen's direction stick closely to true events, since nothing is remotely inflated Hollywood-style. This is gritty realism that never feels like a period film; we experience the story urgently, as if it's happening today. And it's impossible not to think about human trafficking or Abu Ghraib while watching Northrup's ordeal.
Ejiofor simply becomes Northrup, never letting us see the mechanics of acting. His face has a constant look of disbelief (as in, "How could this possibly be happening to me?") even as he furrows his brow and does what he must to survive. Ejiofor is so transparent that we are right with him from the depths of brutality to reluctant glimmers of hope. And he also shines in his interaction with two women (Nyong'o and Oduye) experiencing their own horrors, plus two white men (Pitt and Dillahunt) Northrup dares to think he can trust.
Most extraordinary is how the film resists creating heroes and villains. Even the nastiest characters feel fully formed. Fassbender and Dano somehow elicit sympathy in their most vicious moments, while Paulson (as Epps' wife) mines even darker motivations. McQueen assembles this with his usual skill, using expert camerawork and sound to add to our discomfort. Even so, nothing is exaggerated or manipulative. We squirm and gasp because it has such a strong ring of truth, and not just 170 years ago.
|R E A D E R R E V I E W S|
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© 2013 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall|
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