If you've read any sort of pre-Oscar news, over the past few months, you would have certainly been exposed to the praise of 12 Years a Slave. Truthfully, that's the only exposure that I really had to the film. I can't even remember watching a trailer, though I probably did at some point. Regardless, my expectations were surely lacking, aside from my assumption that this would be an "Oscar favorite" type film. The problem with those Oscar favorites is the fact that they are extremely hit or miss with my viewing pleasures. For instance, in 2011 (we will leave the amazingness of 2012 out of this), there were Oscar-nominated films that I loved, like The Help, Moneyball, Midnight in Paris, and Extremely Loud and incredibly Close, but there were also some that I didn't love, like Hugo and The Descendants. Plus, there were two that I could not stand or understand (cough... The Artist, cough cough... The Tree of Life). With that being said, I was afraid that 12 Years a Slave might be one of those historic films that drives The Academy crazy, offers up a few good performances, and leaves me less than satisfied. However, I couldn't miss out on the opportunity to catch a film like this, coming to Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
The only big negative in the storyline of 12 Years a Slave is the fact that this story is unfortunately one of truth. There are multiple dramatically honest moments that truly make you feel for the individuals who were forced to endure such horrific circumstances. Here in the South, the faults of slavery continue to bring out emotions on both sides of the spectrum. As for me, it's an issue that I believe is best left in the past, but I won't argue with a great tale, such as 12 Years a Slave, being brought out, in an effort to make a new generation of moviegoers and, most importantly, Americans aware of what evil once engulfed our nation. Kudos to the late Solomon Northup for publicizing his story and giving folks like me the opportunity to realize the severity of slavery in the South. There is a moment in the film where Northup, played beautifully by Chiwetel Ejiofor, is hung from a tree, remaining low enough to hold himself up by the tips of his toes. Never, in all of my movie watching, have I ever felt more engaged in a scene, and I honestly began to want for breath. There were many long, artistic scenes designed in the same manner, each of which were amazingly engaging. The only true criticism I have of the way the film developed was how it dealt with the "12 Years" aspect. To me, the events of the film felt more like "12 Months," and, as the end of the film approach, I kept waiting for a "10 years latter" or something similar. Then, the movie was wrapping up, and I had to rethink the time frame in which I had imagined the previous events of the film. Not to take away from the great story, but it is something that you can be more aware of, if you do go watch the film.
It may be early in the Oscar season, but I would bet a good sum of money that 12 Years a Slave will be favored to win best ensemble at the SAG Awards, in January. If I got to choose who won, you could bet everything you had on their victory. It's quite early to make such a bold prediction, but I was so, so impressed with these amazing performances.
The only character that I didn't care for, in what turned out to be an extremely but necessarily large cast, was Alfre Woodard's Mistress Shaw, whose role I felt was too small. She offered a lot of wisdom, in her short time on screen, which I would have loved to see more of. I don't know how much of this was due to the amount of time she was discussed in Northup's book or how much was due to the fact that there were so many great characters and so little time in which to enjoy their presence. Regardless, I wish she would have been a bit more prevalent.
Where do I begin?... There were so many great performances in this film that there is no way I can touch on them all, so you will have to watch for yourself. Chiwetel Ejiofor was brilliant in the lead role, and he will surely merit a best actor nom for his performance. Paul Dano's Tibeats, a full-fledged slave-hater, was probably the most entertaining character in the film. Dano is a fantastic actor, and I thought he did such a great job in this role. Benedict Cumberbatch and Sarah Paulson also gave fantastic performances. However, there is absolutely no performance that could possibly measure up to that of Michael Fassbender! I was utterly blown away by Fassbender, who is quickly becoming one of the greatest actors in Hollywood, and, honestly, his performance was probably the best I have seen since I started this blog. Kudos to Fassbender and anyone involved in the casting of this film. It was absolutely brilliant.
Much of my praise is likely brought on by the fact that I had no clue what to expect when I headed in to watch 12 Years a Slave. Regardless, I'm so, so, so glad that I decided to watch this film, particularly in the theater, where everything just tends to come to life a bit more. 12 Years a Slave is one of those movies that tugs at your emotional heart-strings, and we can all use a little emotion in each of our movie-watching lives. Kudos to director Steve McQueen and the entire cast of 12 Years a Slave for allowing us to share a unique story about a man who was not even meant to be a victim of the injustice that was occurring in the days of slavery. I could continue praising this film, but, instead, I want to challenge all of you guys to go out and watch this movie and see what it has to offer. I give 12 Years a Slave 3.78 out of 5 stars.