Sunday, October 20, 2013

12 Years a Slave Review - 4 Stars

“12 Years a Slave” tells the deadly serious story of slavery in America and as it does it reveals the snarky humor of “Django Unchained” and “Mandingo.”   Chiwetel Ejiofor plays the real life writer musician Solomon Northup — who begins this movie living as a freed man with papers to prove it in 1840’s Saratoga, New York.  One day he meets two traveling performers who invite him to perform in Washington, D.C.  The friendly pair turn out to be traffickers who drug Solomon and sell him to a slave dealer who arranges for Solomon and several others to ship out to Louisiana.   The torment begins.  Solomon must take the name under which he was sold.  He must pretend to neither read nor write.  He must learn to avoid eye contact or even being noticed.  He is sold at auction.  His first owner — played by Benedict Cumberbatch — shows occasional kindness but a run in with the overseer — played by Paul Dano — brings him to Michael Fassbender, a cruel sadistic landowner.   All the while we watch mothers losing their children, men dying in the fields, young women raped and violated.  “12 Years a Slave” never blinks at slavery’s cruel streak in America’s history as it portrays kidnappers, slave sellers, landowners, their families, overseers, those who cooperate and those who fight.  In real life, Solomon Northup managed to return  home to write “12 Years a Slave”–one of the most powerful documents of the 19th century.  He spoke out against slavery and became a noted speaker at abolition gatherings in the days leading to the Civil War.  This story kept the audience I watched with quiet, still, and transfixed.  “12 Years a Slave” has power and emotion rarely achieved in a movie–the movie of the year?  Does it deliver what it promises?  Strong unblinking portrait of slavery and cruelty.  Is it entertaining?  You will leave with your stomach in a knot but completely compelled.  Is it worth the price of admission?  One of the year’s must-see movies.