12 Years a Slave
Director: Steve McQueen
A mere capsule review at festival time could never do justice to McQueen’s powerful masterwork that’s not so much an excellent piece of filmmaking, but a landmark cinematic achievement. While no one left alive today could possibly ever be able to relay the atrocities of America’s history of slavery, it’s doubtful anything will come closer than this.
Free black man Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) from Saratoga, New York – a man with a wife, family, and employment – is duped, drunked, and kidnapped to be sold into slavery. Without papers and no chance of escape that would end in anything other than death, Northup is forced into brutal servitude on two Southern work sites for over a decade: one run by the more sympathetic Master Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), the other by the psychotic cotton plantation running Master Epps (Michael Fassbender).
McQueen’s work here is bravery of the highest form. The goal is to test the audience’s endurance for realistic inflicted psychological and physical punishment, and to create a film that endures through sheer force. Ejiofor gives an iconic performance (backed by a stellar supporting cast) as a man slowly losing his humanity and dignity; driven to near madness by the very notion that hope could exist. It does justice by its real life subject and all those stories kept silent by denial and the passing of time. (Andrew Parker)