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Most helpful customer reviews
68 of 76 people found the following review helpful.
A soul crushing, spellbinding masterpiece
By C. Sawin
The difficulties of surviving as a slave are proven to be frantic right from the start of “12 Years a Slave.” Thrown from abusive master to abusive master, small meal portions, tight living quarters, and if you’re able to read and write you’re beaten for it. You have no friends, are packed like sardines in a can whenever you’re transported, and the struggle to survive nearly outweighs the urge to live. Solomon’s story is absorbing because his time as a free man is spliced into the film whenever he seems to drift off into his own world while he’s a slave. His family and time as a free man are his comfort thoughts when he’s not able to handle the harsh world around him.The historical drama is immediately uncomfortable and difficult to watch as it takes little time before Solomon gets his first beating and it’s just the tip of the iceberg as far as excruciating sequences go. The cast is extraordinary as you see extremely familiar faces pop up here and there; Benedict Cumberbatch as a Baptist preacher and slave owner, Paul Giamatti as a man in charge of selling slaves and getting the best price for them, and Brad Pitt as a Canadian carpenter with an Amish beard. Paul Dano continues his streak of impeccable performances. Dano’s portrayal of sleaziness and smarmy characters reaches new heights in “12 Years a Slave.” He is extremely unsettling in the film.The two standouts of the supporting cast are Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey and Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps. Patsey picks the most cotton out on the field every day and Master Epps (Fassbender) takes a liking to her because of it. Nyong’o's suffering bleeds through in her performance in every gesture and facial expression. Patsey’s journey is heartbreaking and you feel it deep within your soul. Her whip lashing later on in the film is powerful, agonizing, and nearly unbearable to watch without flinching. Fassbender has this demanding yet frightening presence on screen. Epps is a drunk with a short-temper and treats his slaves like property. He is physically and sexually abusive and just the devil reincarnated as far as slave owners go.But of course the real gem of the film is Chiwetel Ejiofor. The English actor has so much talent and has been in several recognizable projects already, but the down side is nobody knows who he is. He will be a mainstay in the public eye after “12 Years a Slave.” Ejiofor is an absolute beast in the film. If you weren’t already sitting down, Ejiofor’s performance would bring you to your knees because it’s so devastating. The extended shots in the film, those ones that seem to last forever while everyone pretends not to see the disgusting event taking place right before them, will haunt you. The over the shoulder shots of kids playing in the background while someone is hanged. It’s depressingly mesmerizing. Thinking on your toes has never meant more than during this film.”12 Years a Slave” is a soul crushing experience. It’s a film featuring no humanity and no kindness only damnation and desperation. You won’t be the same after viewing it. It’s as if a piece of you is left behind once it’s over. “12 Years a Slave” strips you naked, verbally abuses you, puts you in restraints, and whips you bloody until you’re so battered and beaten you think you’re going to die. Then it ties a noose around your neck and hangs you out to dry. As you choke and gasp for air and begin to turn blue, the ropes loosen slowly. A small glimmer of hope emerges and you can breathe again. You will live to see another day, but your life will forever be changed because of it.”12 Years a Slave” will leave you broken and it’s difficult to imagine a repeat viewing, but it’s also the most respectable and melancholy experience you’ll have this year. “12 Years a Slave” is an outstanding triumph in filmmaking since it’s so unbelievably captivating yet will leave you feeling so undeniably uncomfortable as it takes pride in ripping your mortality to shreds over the course of two hours.
33 of 41 people found the following review helpful.
A gut-wrenching history lesson by a masterful filmmaker
By M. Oleson
Theatrical review. There may be spoilers.It is unlikely anyone who goes to see this film won’t have some idea about what it’s about. There have been many fine films about slavery. And while 2012′s “Django Unchained” certainly has violent elements associated with American slavery, that film and others often remind you that it’s only a movie. This movie will draw you in and does so with the unique history of Solomon Northup, an actual freeman who lived a good life in Saratoga, New York. In 1841, he had a beautiful wife and 2 children (one played by Oscar nominee Quvenshane Wallis). He was a classical violinist and highly respected in the community.Approached by a pair of “gentlemen” (including a couldn’t-believe-my-eyes Taran Killam from “Saturday Night Live”) Solomon (an amazing Chiwetel Ejiofor) is enticed by a financial offer to play a gig in Washington, D. C. Once there, he is kidnapped, shackled and sent by steamer to New Orleans. Upon his arrival he is sold as an escaped slave. During this first act, Solomon must quickly learn how to behave, how to act. Just to stay alive. Even talking is frowned upon, so Ejiofor must speak to the audience with his eyes and his expressions to project the torment he is experiencing. Director Steve McQueen often focuses the camera on faces to bring out the pain of the oppressed as well as the viciousness of the oppressors. McQueen doesn’t shy away from anything so be prepared.Slaves, both men and women, are herded together like cattle. They are stripped, hosed down and sold naked. It is hard to watch. Even harder, mothers and children are separated. This is gut-wrenching story telling. Solomon, now called Platt, must hold it together, keeping his wits so that he can eventually reunite with his family. Solomon is first sold to Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), a man of some benevolence as slave owners go. He gives Solomon a violin. He is relatively kind. He is portrayed as a man who is uncomfortable with his position but must accept his role as master. When Ford’s cotton crop is infested with disease, he must transfer ownership of some of his slaves and does so to Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender in another great performance).Epps is a polar opposite to the meek-mannered Ford. He is vicious and violently sadistic. As noted above, McQueen and his photographer bring out the evil in Fassbender’s performance. Epps is not only focused on teaching Solomon a lesson, he always has eyes for a slave known as Patsey (newcomer Lupita Nyong’o). She is but a wisp of a woman but always picks more cotton than any of the men. She is regularly raped by Epps, to the point he doesn’t even hide it from his wife (Sarah Paulson). This means that Patsey not only receives harsh treatment from Edwin but from his wife in equal measure. Solomon does his best to comfort Patsey, but has his own agenda.In one sequence Solomon trusts a white slave (who knew?), under Edwin’s control to work off a debt, with the promise to mail a letter back to his family. The man is paid what few coins Solomon had and upon his release promises to mail the yet written letter. Instead, he rats out Solomon to Epps. When confronted, a tired Solomon must quickly formulate a lie. Looking Epps directly in the eye, Solomon without a quiver, delivers a believable story without hesitation. Remarkable stuff.Remember what I said about “it’s only a movie?” There is one shattering scene where Solomon is forced by Epps to whip the stripped Patsey as punishment for her wandering off to a nearby plantation. And for a while, as uncomfortable as it is to watch, we only see the pain in Solomon’s face as he lashes Patsey. OK, enough already right? Instead, McQueen swivels his camera around the tree to see the peeled and scarred back of the woman as the whip tears off her skin. This is tear-inducing filmmaking on many levels, but this scene induced many gasps from the audience and a couple walk-outs.But McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley want audiences to see the evil and feel the pain in the film. And boy do they succeed. I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about some of the technical elements of the film. During some of the difficult scenes rather than averting my eyes, I was able to focus briefly on some of the great photography in the film. As unusual and contradictory as it may seem, “12 Years” is technically masterful. The soft glow of the cotton fields, the hazy setting of the sun, the insect spreading its wings, somehow add a respite of civility to this great film of a disgraceful American past. Look for Oscar nomination for actors Ejiofor, Fassbender and Nyong’o, director McQueen and more.
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful.
A best film of all times **spoiler-free review**
By Donna Anastasi
Solomon Northup was a real person with a wife and children doing well as a talented musician living in New York in 1841. He is tricked into being kidnapped, and then is chained, beaten, broken down, re-named (now called “Platt”), transported and sold into slavery in Louisiana. Northrup is one of the very few people to have escaped this terrible plight and, eventually, return to his home and family.This story is primarily about those 12 years a slave from the book Northup later wrote detailing the transition from free man to slave, the shocking living conditions and treatment of slaves in the south, and his own ordeal in the hands of three slave owners within a system of institutionalized captivity and abuse. His account provides a rare and incredible historic insight. The film is gritty, raw, real and details exactly how slavery “worked” in this country, including the many lines of defense and extreme measures to prevent escape and deny freedoms, the ways slaves survived and did not, and the ill effects on those committing such atrocities themselves or allowing them to happen under their own roof.Torture and violence are set against an often beautiful scenic background, a physical example of the many contrasts presented in this film. The characters are complex and many insights into that time in history are revealed as well as eternal truths about human nature, cruelty and kindness, survival and courage. In this beautifully shot, masterfully crafted film, the main actor Chiwetel Ejiofor makes you desperately feel each and every emotion Solomon experiences from a carefree stroll with his wife and children in New York all the way through his horrific ordeal until his reunion with his family 12 years later. Won’t be surprised to see this one sweep the Academy awards and gain recognition as a best film of all times.
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