Sunday, 26 October 2014

12 Years a Slave

12 years a Slave
Film Review

“the most vivid and authentic portrayal of American slavery ever captured on screen.”(Henry Louis Jr.)

John Ridley's screenplay adaption of Solomon Northrup's account (published 1853) of his life in slavery is regarded as on of the best visual portrayals of one of Americas taboo topics. Unlike other recent films about or surrounding the subject  of slavery, such as Tarantinos Django Unchained (2013). 12 years a slave shows the undergoing's individuals had to deal with in US slave states. from a first hand view,the tale solely tracks the beginning of Solomon's incarceration to his eventual release from bondage. With a variety of different filming styles and the easy to follow screen sequence Steve McQueen's graphic and emotionally compromising film gives those who view it a taste of slavery with great authenticity.

With an aim to create an easy to follow but emotionally impacting film, McQueen's delivery of the storylin, continually keeps the viewer aware of the journey of Solomon Northrup from his position of freedom and prosperity in Saratoge, New York through his  enslavement in Washington D.C. and throughout his different placement upon his arrival in the southern  states. Although consistent in his placement of Solomon, in most of the scenes McQueen , maintains a steady incorporation of other key individuals. This large cast of additional characters would in many other features potentially confuse the story line however with short but concise scenes of dialogue and action, the viewer is able to gain a clear idea of  'who' the character is, their role/significance to the story line and to some degree a feel for the personality of that character. Whether admiration, appreciation, empathy or cruelty, is presented the use of different emotions to help expose the clandestine lifestyles slaves had to deal with in order to survive. an example of this is the accounts of Solomon when describing how he had to withhold the knowledge of his ability to read and write from his master so as to not be singled out. 

The use of somewhat unknown actors to play protagonists such as Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o) or key characters as Solomon's wife (Quvenzhane Wallis)
those watching can gain a more authentic feeling from the film. With a limited ability to see them as professional actors, their representation of real slaves is more believable. This mirage is somewhat spoiled in my opinion with the entrance of veteran actors such as Benedict Cumberbatch, Micheal Fassbender and Brad Pitt. playing massively difference characters each with a varied attitude and view slavery, somehow prevent a truer presentation of such impacting individuals. The scenes in which Solomon (newly purchased under the coerced sue-denim of 'Plat'), is sold along with Patsey to Master William Ford (Cumberbatch) is a dark portrayal of the slave markets, then to see a well established actor,  better know as a London detective or a sci-fi villain and voicing  a deep southern accent  creates a skepticism in the viewers mind , Fassbender's sadistic Master Edwin Epps and Pitts nomadic, abolitionist Canadian personas are equally as authentically distant.

Slave culture is an important factor in the development of Solomon's journey. Generically understood events that occurred in the slave era such as whippings, lynchings, rape and muzzeling are presented often and graphically. as well as other less know restriction of tagging when off plantation, loaning to other plantations and  being subject to oppressive songs like 'Run Nigga Run!' (sung by Master Fords employee Tibbets) .. However, 12 years a slave does also show the forms in which slaves kept dealing with their position of bondage. Finding motivation from work gang songs in cotton picking and cutting cane (similarly presenting of modern day Ghetto 'Soul choir' themes), finding unity  in time  of sadness, revels a unknown side to life as a slave. Single frames of isolated scenery also emphasizes the isolation of the characters themselves 

12 years slave- a composition of modern British film making with variety and style portraying a US 19th century slave it is difficult to conclude on. I see it such a piece of reconstructed history that is "...forcing audiences to confront the dehumanising brutality of slavery, something few other filmmakers have been prepared to address." (Geoffrey MacNab- the Independent)

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