Sunday, February 2, 2014

12 Years a Slave

Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sarah Paulson, Paul Dano, Alfre Woodard, Dwight Henry, Kelsy Scott
Genre: Biography, Drama
Direction: Steve McQueen
Production: Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Bill Pohlad, Steve McQueen, Arnon Milchan, Anthony Katagas
Story: Based on biography of Solomon Northup
Screenplay : John Ridley
Cinematographer: Sean Bobbitt
Music: Hans Zimmer
Editing : Joe Walker
Studio : Regency Enterprises, River Road Entertainment, Plan B, New Regency, Film4
Distribution: Fox Searchlight Pictures (US), Entertainment One (UK), PVR Pictures (India)
Release Date: 31st January, 2014 (India)
Language: English
Duration: 2 hours 14 minutes
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good +)
Twelve Years a Slave is an adaptation of the 1853 memoir of the same name by Solomon Northup, a New-York state born free Negro who was kidnapped in Washington D.C. in 1841 and sold into slavery. He worked on plantations in the state of Louisiana for twelve years before his release.
It is depressing, sad, annoying, frustrating to watch what Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) went through his 12 years as a slave. A great performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor whose act of bewilderment, despair, anguish, trying to survive is just outstanding. There are moments when with no sound and little movement, he projects what hopelessness looks like. His 12 years of unthinkable abuse, backbreaking labour, fading dreams of happy family, desperateness to figure a way out to his freedom…every act moves us. The brutality, dehumanizing acts of the masters make it so tough to even look at the screen.

Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) as a cotton plantation owner is shown as humane yet ineffectual who eventually sells Solomon to the vicious, drunken Epps (Michael Fassbender), another cotton plantation owner. Epps is ruthless. The screen timings with him in the frame are like an unbearable demonstration of misery in movement.

Another applauding performance has come from Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) who is vocal about her grief, a young slave, victim of Epps’ barbarous and insane ways. She is raped and beaten by Epps, who is also a cause of envy to Epps’ wife who feels that Epps has an eye on her.

I was actually moved by lot many scenes in the movie. Mother’s pleading not to separate her from her two children, still all three being sold to different masters creates a lump in the throat. Solomon strung up by the neck for a transgression and his toes are barely touching the dark plantation mud as he dangles, near-dead under the scorching sun. Another disturbing visual is merged with this i.e. children are playing in the background, other slaves are going ahead with their chores since they fear that if they would help Solomon, they would lose their lives. Patsey somehow manages to give him little water. The psyche of the slaves, their surrendering to the fate one side and the heartless brutality of the masters / overseers on another side are very well captured. The night Patsey comes to Platt (Solomon’s identity as a slave), asking him to kill her is a scene of unbearable pain, particularly as Platt turns his back and Patsey sobs into the night. Male / female slaves with their bleeding back after being beaten up (almost to death) choked me. Solomon just wanting to rush with officials who came to free him (following Bass -Brad Pitt’s) efforts, turning back to give a warm hug to Patsey is so overwhelming.    

It depicts the dark chapter of slavery in American History. It is beyond one’s imagination the kind of suffering the slaves faced. A complete shame to humanity.

Steve McQueen as director is adept with his articulation. Though the title says that Solomon would be slave for 12 years, McQueen and John Riddley makes us feel that it could be forever. Sean Bobbit (Cinematographer) has given great aerial shots which are so effective in making us bewildered, disoriented, and a complete lost feel along with the protagonist.

12 Years a Slave isn’t easy to watch since it not only unfolds the tragedy of Solomon in particular but it also depicts the tragedy of such countless souls who lost the biggest gift of mankind- the freedom.