12 Years a Slave Film Review :
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A musician is drugged, kidnapped and sold to a ring of human traffickers. Director Steve McQueen uses his considerable skills to chain us to that man. Then he drops him and us into a pitiless chamber of horrors that would be unimaginable if it didn’t acutely define the American slave trade.
You heard me. 12 Years a Slave starts its true story in 1841 when Solomon Northup (British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor), a violin player living free in New York with his wife and children, gets tricked into a job in Washington, D.C., and then winds up as human chattel in the Deep South. Solomon’s memoir was published in 1853, eight years before the Civil War. Ancient history? Only if you believe that freedom has lost its fragility in the modern world. McQueen, a conceptual artist born in London to West Indian parents, sure as hell doesn’t. His cinematic gut punch looms like a colossus over the Mandingo-Mammy-fixated drivel that passes as muckraking in Hollywood. Working with African-American screenwriter John Ridley, McQueen makes it impossible to regard slavery from the safe remove of TV screens (Roots), Hollywood sugarcoating (Gone With the Wind) and Tarantino satire (Django Unchained). This prickly renegade restores your faith in the harsh power of movies. You don’t just watch 12 Years a Slave. You bleed with it, share its immediacy and feel the wounds that may be beyond healing.
In the pre-Civil War United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. Facing cruelty as well as unexpected kindnesses Solomon struggles not only to stay alive, but to retain his dignity. In the twelfth year of his unforgettable odyssey, Solomon’s chance meeting with a Canadian abolitionist will forever alter his life.
Soon after its world premiere last year, 12 Years a Slave was widely described as the best film that has yet been made about American slavery. Steve McQueen deserves every gong going for his unflinching portrayal of slavery, writes Mark Kermode.