Sunday, November 10, 2013

Movie Madness: 12 Years a Slave

Solomon Northup wrote his book "12 Years a Slave" in 1853. Wow. Here was a black man in Saratoga, NY - free, educated, cultured (violinist), and happy with a wife and two kids. Life was great until he was lured by two men to go on tour with his violin and he ended up in Washington DC (south of the Mason Dixon line). Oops. After a night of wining and dining, he awakened shackled, alone, and without papers.

The film "12 Years a Slave" chronicles Northup's journey to hell and back. Chiwetel Eijofor needs to work on his Oscar speech now. His performance is spot on and often without dialogue. Just the puzzlement and despair on his face, and then his determination to survive is breathtaking. His first enslavement is with a "kind" plantation owner played by Benedict Cumberbatch. However, the overseer (Paul Dano) is petty, mean, and evil. Northup and Dano come to blows and the result is not pretty. Ultimately, the owner sells Northup to another. Then he's moved to another and here's where the going gets tough. Michael Fassbender's plantation owner is nutso evil. He flaunts his affair with a slave girl, Patsy, in front of his wife. She, in turn, manipulates Northup.

Mid-1800s was not a pretty episode in American history, and this film does not approach it lightly. The beatings, degradation, and slave life is depicted brutally honestly. It's not an easy film to watch, and yet it is absolutely intensely well done. Eijofor is one of those actors you've seen in lots of things - television and movies. Now he has leaped into the forefront of Oscar watch with this role of a lifetime. Brad Pitt, who is a producer on this film, is a hero also. As a white man who abhors slavery, he's Northup's connection to friends up North and his final passage to freedom. I'm not giving away a huge plot line - the man lived to write his book, but the twelve years he lost to happiness is horrific. This is not a popcorn movie. It is just great filmmaking and storytelling.

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