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Review: 12 Reasons to Watch ‘12 Years a Slave’ [Photos]

( [email protected] ) Feb 04, 2014 07:44 PM EST


12 Years a Slave
Chiwetel Ejiofor (far left) and Paul Giamatti (Photo: Courtesy of Fox Searchlight)

1. It shows human suffering and triumph - Based on a memoir written in 1853 by Solomon Northup, a free man kidnapped and sold into slavery, it's one of the few films that convey the experience of slavery from the slave's point of view.  It is the most vivid and authentic portrayal of American slavery ever captured on screen and its sober presentation of bondage is interwoven with the universal themes of identity, betrayal, brutality and the need to keep faith in order to survive.

12 Years a Slave
Chiwetel Ejiofor (Photo: Courtesy of Fox Searchlight)

2. Chiwetel Ejiofor - So deeply did the actor delve into the character in the Steve McQueen directed film, any essence of Ejiofor, the man, ceased to exist. He carried us back in time with him and gave us a clear and concise insight to a lost, forgotten, and otherwise unheralded tale of a fugitive slave. Solomon Northrup offered the actor complexity, and Ejiofor took full advantage. While the true story of a free man sold into story moved us, his performance is widely regarded as among the finest in his career for he dove into the chaos of the human psyche.  He takes the character through twelve years of changes and portrays a real-life, heroic figure in a magisterial performance.

12 Years a Slave
Chiwetel and Lupita's seating for SAG Awards (Clinton H.Wallace/Photomundo International)

3. Its Oscar nominated - Nominated for nine Oscars, it's a film that has already earned several accolades from numerous associations across the nation. Since its October release, "12 Years a Slave" has received 104 awards in categories that include best directing, acting, screenplay, score, cinematography and costume design.

12 Years a Slave
Chiwetel Ejiofor and Sari Mercer at the SAG Awards (Photo: Clinton H.Wallace/Photomundo International)

4. Pitt made it possible - Brad Pitt who shows up in the last 20 minutes of the movie produced the film. The story's fate was helped early on when Pitt and his Plan B productions came aboard.  Without Pitt, McQueen says, the film would not have been made.

12 Years a Slave
Chiwetel Ejiofor and director Steve McQueen on the set of 12 Years a Slave (Photo: Courtesy of Fox Searchlight)

5. Has Biblical parallels - The result of Northup's story is almost biblical. At the time of his kidnapping in April 1841, he was exactly 33-years-old, the same age most assume Christ was when he carried his cross up to Golgotha. Unlike a God humbling himself in the form of man, however, Northup was a man forced into the life of a slave, and the prospect of his resurrection was more elusive than three days.

12 Years a Slave
Lupita Nyong'o as Patsey, Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup (Photo: courtesy of Fox SearchLight)

6. Disturbingly brutal - This movie is frightening, gripping and inspiring. It shows the horrific cruelty of the slave-trading industry and the history of racial oppression. The moments of greatest emotion include a horrifying scene where Solomon is left to hang from a lynching noose with his feet barely touching the ground for hours while children play nearby.  Another sequence is when a slave is whipped so brutally she's left with horrible welts on much of the surface of her back.

12 Years a Slave
Sarah Paulson and Lupita Nyongo in 12 Years a Slave (Photo: courtesy of Fox Searchlight)

7. It's based on a unique book - 101 fugitive slaves published books about their enslavement; but only one, Solomon Northup published a book about his passage from freedom, to slavery, to freedom again. It's a book which sold some 17,000 copies in the first few months of its release.

12 Years a Slave
Steve McQueen on the set of 12 Years a Slave (Photo: Courtesy of Fox Searchlight)

8. It's directed by a British director - Steve McQueen ("Hunger," "Shame") has an undeniable skill for box office success. His retelling of Northup's 12 Years is closer than any other representation to the true intent of Northup's original book, which was published just five months after Northup's rescue.

12 Years a Slave
Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave (Photo: Courtesy of Fox Searchlight)

9. February is Black History Month - The story of slavery is one that has been largely ignored in classrooms. They are the stories of the shaping of America and like the Holocaust in Europe, their stories cannot be told and retold enough. It is worth seeing just for people to know about this important story and learn of a significant chapter in America's sordid past.

12 Years a Slave
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup (Photo: Courtesy of Fox Searchlight)

10. It's a cinematic experience - Few films have captured, or even attempted to convey the experience of slavery from the slave's point of view. The movie conveys heart-wrenching sadness uncovering what it was really like to "belong" to a master, whether ruthless or seemingly gracious.

12 Years a Slave
Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender on the set of 12 Years a Slave (Photo: Courtesy of Fox Searchlight)

11. It features an A-list cast - Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Alfre Woodard and Paul Giamatti with music from Hans Zimmer, brilliant cinematography by Sean Bobbitt and great costume designs by Patricia Norris.

12 Years a Slave
Lupita Nyong'o (Clinton H.Wallace/Photomundo International)

12. Everybody Loves Lupita - By the time the first few scenes start rolling, you will be in love with Lupita Nyong'o. The 30-year-old Mexican-born, Kenyan-raised Yale film school graduate makes her film debut in a role that demanded an enormous emotional commitment. She was one of a 1,000 women who auditioned for the role of an enslaved mistress called Patsey. Now the darling of Tinseltown, Nyong'o has received several accolades including a Screen Actors Guild award for best supporting actress.