Wednesday, February 5, 2014

12 Years A Slave - Review

I seldom like to watch Rated R movies unless there's a reason to watch it. By far, most movies that earn this rating do so with gratuitous sex, violence, and profanity that add very little to the actual story at hand. Some movies rise above this annoying formula and provide Rated R material only because the story demands it: Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, The Pianist, The Godfather (I and II).

I would add 12 Years a Slave to this list. I had no idea that slaves were stripped naked when sold off like in a meat market. I had no idea that lashings could cause so much damage. This movie provides several terrible images that will permanently remain etched in my memory--a testament as to how horrible weak-minded people can become.

Solomon Northup is a free man from New York. Tricked by human trafficking thieves, he is kidnapped and sent down south (Georgia, I think, judging by the cicadas and accent). For 12 years, he serves at a few different plantations.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays a mostly benevolent Christian master who turns a blind eye. Paul Dano and Michael Fassbender convincingly play despicable lowlifes that get a high off of ruling over those unfortunate to be under them--while at the same time having no real power in life outside of their precious plantations.

Chiwetel Ejiofor nails down the conflicted protoganist. I would really like to see this relatively unknown actor beat the other big names at the Oscars. (Well ... he did play that one dude in 2012, but we won't hold that against him, right?)

Brad Pitt was the only weak actor. His role is only a cameo--an Alfred Hitchcock-like insertion of himself into his own movie. Unfortunately, his delivery was not very convincing. If only he could return to his glory acting days (12 Monkeys).

The movie literally tears apart all hope. Several times, I wanted it all to end. It's very hard to imagine being subject to all these horrors every day with no hope of deliverance. Only the fact that we know he'll be rescued in twelve years gives the hope to continue watching. And when it comes, it's almost hard to believe.

The movie is nearly perfect, except I found a few of the cuts to be a little confusing. For example, Northup is sent to this one plantation and five minutes later, he's back at the really bad one, and I didn't understand what had happened. Also, when Northup is finally rescued, it didn't feel as if twelve years had passed. Maybe a year or two. It also felt that there was much more to the story, and the screenplay was holding back.

Then comes the best part. It turns out in the end (according to the written blurb at the very end) that the ones who kidnapped Northup get off scott free. But then you know what the real Northup did? He wrote a book. He immortalized the sins of these despicable people. Their names are forever tarnished, and they will only be remembered for the horrors they propagated, and for the smallness of their minds.

Yes, Northup got the last laugh.

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