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12 Years A Slave (2013) good movie
USA, 134 min, Rated 14A (ON) 13+ (QC)
Reviewed 11/13, © Stephen Bourne
www.ofrb.gov.on.ca | www.rcq.gouv.qc.ca

Steve McQueen - Director
John Ridley - Screenplay
Sean Bobbitt - Cinematography


"TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE is based on an incredible true story of one man's fight for survival and freedom. In the pre-Civil War United States, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. Facing cruelty (personified by a malevolent slave owner, portrayed by Michael Fassbender), as well as unexpected kindnesses, Solomon struggles not only to stay alive, but to retain his dignity." - 12yearsaslave.com


British powerhouse character actor Chiwetel Ejiofor takes the lead as mid-19th century Upstate New York freeman musician Solomon Northup, kidnapped and sold into slavery in UK-born director Steve McQueen's Oscar-buzzy historical drama. 12 Years a Slave is based on Northup's actual 1853 memoir, Twelve Years A Slave, subtitled, Narrative of Solomon Northup, citizen of New-York, kidnapped in Washington city in 1841, and rescued in 1853, from a cotton plantation near the Red River in Louisiana. While not a verbatim adaptation, this entirely blunt feature memorably recounts Northup's often-brutal experiences surviving as a plantation slave passed from one white owner to the next in pre-emancipation America.

Reportedly the son of a freed slave, former farmer turned for-hire carpenter and violinist Solomon Northup was freeborn in 1808 in Essex County, New York. Educated and married, yet lured from the protection of regional abolitionism by the promise of well-paid work in Washington, DC, he was kidnapped in his early 30s, renamed Platt and wrongfully branded a runaway slave. Northup was subsequently "returned" to the Deep South and sold as property into a world completely alien to his own, unable to contact his family or friends back home.

To put Solomon Northup's life in US historical context, he was born 184 years after the birth of William Tucker, a Jamestown, Virginia slave known to have been the first black child born in America. 12 years after Northup reclaimed his freedom and published his book, the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution abolished slavery in that country in 1865.

Speaking of that, director Steven Spielberg's film Lincoln (2012) definitely could have cut its screenplay mostly depicting the academic, intellectual exercise of enacting the Thirteenth Amendment with a dose of what was personally and emotionally at stake from the viewpoint of those plantation slaves Northup's freedom left behind.

12 Years A Slave isn't immediately the type of movie that's easy to rave about. It's not an enjoyable popcorn flick in any manner similar to what a typical sweeping epic or dramatic adventure might serve up. I'm not complaining. I'm glad this screening wasn't a fun time at the movies. It's harsh, and appropriately hard to watch. 12 Years A Slave seamlessly transports a contemporary audience back to what most could really only imagine the last decades of slavery in America were actually like. Cinematographer Sean Bobbitt captures this world with an impeccable eye for detail. Not of the Old South from Classic Hollywood or tidy modern anachronism, though. Bobbitt and Director Steve McQueen unflinchingly take you to America's horrifying and traumatizing age of ignorance and brutality against humanity. A time when black people were bought and sold and often worked to death by white people. It's sickening to watch as presented here. As it should be, knowing 12 Years A Slave is for the most part based on historic fact... (Read more)

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