Film Review: 12 Years A Slave

Anybody who has a passing interest in cinema, film and movies will know that as January steams forward at a rapid pace, it can only mean one thing – awards season. And this year, it’s 12 Years a Slave that is, along with Gravity, leading the way.

Whether it is Chiwetel Ejiofor in the title role, Lupita Nyong’o supporting as Patsey, Steve McQueen and his growing reputation for feature film direction and production that no longer can be tagged as style over substance, the whole film is just being lifted higher and higher, with more accolades and awards every time a red carpet is rolled out.

So, already thinking it was a movie I wouldn’t miss, it seemed it was the movie I couldn’t miss.

There is no question, it is a stunning movie. There are little touches of absolute brilliance within it. Whether it’s the truth to its base narrative and the fact that there is no in fill. If Solomon Northup didn’t witness a scene it’s not in the movie. It’s his story, through his eyes, and that’s the world you see. Or the set design, and just how accurate a world is created. It feels like the 19th century. It feels like an exact split between the north and the south. There is so much of this movie that just feels right.

However, there is just parts of this movie that feel wrong. And now I need to elaborate. I had heard reviews of this film stating that it was overly harrowing. That it pushed the limits of decency too far, and in fact, I’d read a review declaring it two and bit hours of “torture porn”. One reviewer even went as far as to say that they walked out because it was that uncomfortable to watch.

I honestly don’t think it’s anything like as bad as they were making out. It’s not pushing the lines of decency, and it’s certainly not torture porn. In fact. There was only one moment in the entire film that I though “enough’s enough, I’m starting to feel uncomfortable” and that’s when Paul Dano’s character sings an overly racist song which musically is just dragged out for a bit too long.

My biggest problem with the film though is that, McQueen coming from a short film, documentary background, sticks religiously to this. He wants to tell Northup’s story and that’s what he’ll do, and therefore, some basic construction and foundations of the film suffer.

The film lacks any real idea of how to show the progression of time. There are times when we’re left assuming a passage of time rather than having an overriding sense of it. McQueen uses close ups and artistic shots that drag a greater feeling of disconnection rather than the despair you expect.

There are times when you are shown into a characters eyes, especially Northup’s, and you just see nothing. It’s almost as if the actors are totally removed from the script, from their characters. Not wanting to give 100% for fear of allowing the mental state and life of a slave at that time to take over. To become too real.

Add all this up and you get left with a film that, while takes a taboo subject, honours it’s brutality, but ultimately, doesn’t quite take you far enough to say it’s ever going to be a classic. I’ll win academy awards, there can be no doubt, but if I have to predict what, I’d go for the artistic ones rather than the acting.

8 out of 10 stars (8 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

Comments are closed.