7:30 PM, 13th March, 2014
Director Steve McQueen is no stranger to crafting raw, visceral films that sucker punch the audience into equal parts awe and submission through their deep analyses of the darkest aspects of the human condition. After tackling martyrdom (Hunger) and addiction (Shame), it therefore seems only natural that McQueen would next turn his attention to the deplorable act of slavery.
12 Years A Slave is the (unfortunately) true story of Solomon Northrop (Ejiofor), a born-free African-American man who was conned, abducted and sold into slavery against his will for (you guessed it) twelve years. Never once wavering in his quest to return home to his family, Northrop struggles to not only stay alive, but to retain his individuality in the face of both extreme cruelty and unexpected kindness from the people he meets along the way.
If you’re looking for an uplifting, feel-good picture, then you better start looking elsewhere. McQueen’s film – as with his first two features – is an unflinching, brutal and sobering look at his chosen subject matter, crafted by an expert filmmaker at the top of his game. Ejiofor too delivers a career-best, extraordinarily powerful performance, anchoring the film even opposite some amazing supporting turns from the likes of Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano and Benedict Cumberbatch. But particular praise must go to McQueen-regular Fassbender’s unforgettable turn as a terrifying plantation owner, and newcomer Lupita Nyong’o in one of the bravest debut performances in recent memory.
Yes, 12 Years A Slave is remorseless and even horrifying at times, but – as 9 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, and its current frontrunner status demonstrate – it is an essential cinema experience.