12 Years a Slave – 3.5/5 stars

Everyone has been talking about it and in the last few days, all I have been seeing on Twitter is how great this film.  So blaming on the social media hype, I watched this week’s offering with high hopes.  Only upon watching it, it has almost put me in an unfamiliar state of indifference.

12 Years a Slave is the true story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free man from New York but during one night, he is drugged and sold into slavery.  Despite his protests that he is a free man, he is forced to endure the painful life of a slave, while hoping to return to his family.

Northrup’s autobiographical account of his time in slavery is compelling and rich in historical value.  For it to be adapted for film, the brutality and soul of his story needs to be alive to convey the determination of his own survival. However, there is something about 12 Years that makes it fall short of greatness.

From the racist behaviour to violence that can be considered extreme, it is hard not to react with horror during certain scenes.  McQueen’s honest direction, brutal as it can be, focusses on the physical rather than the emotional trauma.  While Northup becomes almost resigned to his fate, his presence becomes more of a bystander as the physical abuse continues on amongst his acquaintances, lessening the effects of his own inner struggle, not to mention his character’s engagement with the audience.

Yet between the harsh realities on slavery and the poetic storytelling style of director McQueen and writer John Ridley is a platform for the amazing acting performances.  Ejiofor breaks out of his own in a role worthy of his dramatic talents, showing that he can stand along side the likes of Paul Giamatti, Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender and be proud of his role and performance.  Fassbender’s merciless slave driver Edwin Epps gives the film its inner turmoil and newcomer Lupita Nyong’o’s heartbreaking role as the abused Patsey is a bravest debut performance ever seen.

Overall, 12 Years a Slave is a brave piece of filmmaking and one to last through the ages in terms of acting and storytelling.  But I truthfully cannot say: “I love/hate it” – making one of those rare films, where a final opinion is in limbo.

Thanks for reading.

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