12 Years A Slave

Finally, a Steve McQueen movie comes to the shores of Singapore, and for those who may have missed his previous 2 works Shame and Hunger, this is definitely an excellent introduction to this director. Again, he reunites with Michael Fassbender to bring us a a harsh, brutal and direct look at black slavery in 19th century America. However, this time the lead role belongs to Chiwetel Ejiofor.

It is amazing how a mainly British team came together to give us an amazing film about a piece of American shame. Almost every aspect of the movie was without a doubt top notch. From the sound mixing and editing, to costumes and sets, the very fitting score by Hans Zimmer, the gorgeous cinematography by Sean Bobbitt and of course the first class acting and directing.

From the get go, McQueen has got us hook, line and sinker into the film. There was minimal dialogue during the first 10 minutes with just Zimmer's wondrous score coupled with the harsh, raw directing and filming. And throughout the film, McQueen never once let down this honest brutality and over-indulged in romanticising anything. He is one of the few directors who understand what it means to show not tell, and he respects his audience's intelligence. Praise also goes out to writer John Ridley for giving us characters that are complex and multi-layered, with no one dimensional good guy or villain. 

Of course all these cinematic magic would also not have happened without the talented cast that McQueen has assembled. Here we have shoo-ins nominations for Best Actor for Ejiofor, Supporting Actor for Fassbender and a Best Supporting Actress for Lupita Nyong'o.

Ejiofor is stunning as he tries to maintain the dignity of his character and wrestles with moral dilemmas. He grows and he changes; he makes us empathise with his situation but at the same time makes us question whether the decisions he made are right or wrong, or for that matter if there is even a right or wrong to be had. However, the one thing that let this film down is also the lack of development/emphasis on his motivation to escape his situation. Sure we may have glimpses of it, but by choosing not to spotlight it, McQueen and Ridley may have let some audience feel slightly detached from his story.

Fassbender was amazing in his portrayal of the central antagonist. He gave us a villain who is not an all out bad guy. He made us think why does this person act the way he does. What are his motivations? And we don't see Fassbender at all, unlike Brad Pitt, as he meander his way throughout the movie anguished, tormented, psychotic, brutal, crazy, horny, repentful, humble, etc. He is like Leonardo diCaprio in Django Unchained. The crazy white man in a black movie, except he is definitely not a caricature.

Lastly, we have Lupita Nyong'o who will definitely give Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle a run of her money for Best Supporting Actress. Nyong'o is heartbreaking. Her character's evolution is truly the emotional core of this movie and Nyong'o portrayed her so nakedly honest. With just two particular scenes, she has seared her moments into the audience memories.

The rest of the cast includes standouts like Benedict Cumberbatch, Sarah Paulson and Paul Dano. And of course it has to be an American and Brad Pitt (who is also an EP), who is the white hat of the movie.

As aforementioned, Zimmer has given us a terrific score. Silent and gentle at moments and harsh and violent at times. His composition here never once overwhelmed the film, but always a constant companion throughout.

There is no doubt that this film will garner loads of accolades and nominations during awards time, and, to me, this is thus far, the film to beat for this year's Best Picture. This and American Hustle are in a tight heat although I would not be surprised if the latter beats it. Although I was enraptured throughout 12 Years A Slave and fascinated with the story of the protagonist, somehow towards the final third of the film, it dawned upon me that, as I had said above, do I really care about what happened to Solomon in the end? Sure, I want to know how his story end, but do I really care if he died a slave or a free-man? If he gets re-united with his family or go all Django Unchained on us? This is a conundrum. McQueen and writer John Ridley has given a character that we cared about but just not deeply enough to root for him. Conversely, in American Hustle , we want the "good" guys to win, however, as in my review, the getting there was tedious. Weighing them both together, I feel that McQueen has given us a far more superior movie compared to Russell. And it is definitely a lot better than Lee Daniels' The Butler.


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