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Film review: 12 Years a Slave

On January 31, 2014

By Rebecca McRitchie

Directed by Steve McQueen (Shame), written by John Ridley and adapted from the novel of the same name by Solomon Northup, 12 Years a Slave is an incredibly affecting account of the life of Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York who is abducted and sold into slavery.

Boasting an impressive cast, the movie features positively brilliant performances, namely from Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong’o. Brad Pitt, Paul Dano and Benedict Cumberbatch also make an appearance but their time on-screen is limited.

At no point in this movie will you feel comfortable. And that is McQueen’s aim. McQueen does not shy away from the distressing events that occurred, yet presents them unflinchingly (though you will most definitely flinch yourself). McQueen uses long, uninterrupted scenes that make you squirm in your seat, waiting, sometimes even begging, for a cut scene or a piece of soundtrack to swoop in and make you feel at ease. But McQueen holds off. He pushes the boundaries of what is considered the ‘palatable’ amount of time to show a slave being whipped, hanged, even raped because these things are not suppose to be palatable.

Some viewers may be quick to brush this movie off as either depressing or unoriginal, but 12 Years a Slave is likely to be one of the most accurate portrayals of the horror of slavery during antebellum America. Overall I give it 4.5 out of 5. A must see movie of 2014.

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