Review of 12 Years a Slave

It has been some time since I’ve done a movie review on here, unfortunately I haven’t been able to go to the theater’s much as of late; with any luck this trend will change and I have vowed to attend more movies than I did this past year (2013). Thankfully I did have a chance to attend the film 12 Years a Slave. The film itself was well done and I felt immersed from the beginning to the end. I don’t mean to detract from the work done on this film but I’m under the impression that it’s fairly easy to create a movie such as this when the story is so intriguing and riveting. I had heard a lot about this film before seeing it and I was not disappointed. The acting was believable and aside from a few moments where I recognized the actors I was quite immersed. I would recommend you check it out, well worth the cost of admission.

**Spoilers to follow** (Synopsis provided by IMDb; why re-invent the wheel?)

In the pre-Civil War United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. Facing cruelty at the hands of a malevolent slave owner, as well as unexpected kindnesses, Solomon struggles not only to stay alive, but to retain his dignity. In the twelfth year of his unforgettable odyssey, Solomon’s chance meeting with a Canadian abolitionist will forever alter his life.

Pretty straight-forward story line. The debonair Solomon Northup is abducted into slavery for 12 years before finally being rescued by a well intentioned Canadian abolitionist. There were two moments when I was watching the film where I felt that I had been taken out of the movie (due to my recognition of the actors). The first moment was when Paul Dano appeared on the screen. Don’t get me wrong, I like Paul Dano I think he’s a great actor; but him popping up in my historical films really throws me for a loop and reminds me that I am in fact watching a big budget hollywood movie. I just couldn’t help but think, “Couldn’t they have gotten anyone else to play the part of slave overseer number 1?” It wasn’t like he was a major character, he was in the film for maybe 25 minutes total. Of those 25 minutes he’s basically the “classic overseer” he’s brash, arrogant, condescending and cruel. Couldn’t they have casted someone else for that? Does it really require a talent of Dano’s level?

The next scene where I was taken out of the film was when the role of Canadian abolitionist was played by Brad Pitt. Not to be rude here but doesn’t it seem a bit self serving to cast Brad Pitt as the guy who’s all “anti-slavery”. Frankly I’m tired of him always being the “good guy” in films. I want to return to a time when he was relegated to being the bad seed, like he was in fight club. It seems like every movie lately has either him or George Clooney playing some good guy who comes in and saves the day. I will say though that Pitt was a hell of a lot more believable than Dano in his role. I don’t believe that these sort of celebrity cameos help the movie in any significant way.

Paul Giamatti also had a fairly brief cameo, which again was a weird choice (although he was less weird than Pitt and Dano for me). The film did a nice job of juxtaposing the level of fondness that the slave-owners had for what they considered to be “their property” and the brutality of slavery. There were a fair amount of tender moments between Solomon Northup and the white slave owners. The movie would then throw you for a loop and depict horrible scenes of brutality and ugliness the very next scene as if to help you to remember what a horrible thing slavery was. I remember hearing an interview with someone from the movie where they said that there were really only two scenes depicting actual violence and they happen early in the film.

My trivial little critiques shouldn’t dissuade anybody from seeing this movie, it was visceral and raw and well worth the cost of admission.

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