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12 years a slave

12 years a slave

12 years a slave

It’s a desperate path and a story that seizes you almost immediately with a visceral force. But Mr. McQueen keeps everything moving so fluidly and efficiently that you’re too busy worrying about Solomon, following him as he travels from auction house to plantation, to linger long in the emotions and ideas that the movie churns up. Part of this is pragmatic — Mr. McQueen wants to keep you in your seat, not force you out of the theater, sobbing — but there’s something else at work here. This is, he insists, a story about Solomon, who may represent an entire subjugated people and, by extension, the peculiar institution, as well as the American past and present. Yet this is also, emphatically, the story of one individual. It's about time for another overdue 'too soon' for HBO. The cable network's adaptation of Solomon Northup's memoir makes a powerful and emotional story about race and slavery feel fresh in oblivion to its subject matter. The brutal 12-year saga of Northup's life is full of death and despair at every turn until even the capstone moment, his escape.

MOVIE

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Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly praised it as "a new movie landmark of cruelty and transcendence" and as "a movie about a life that gets taken away, and that's why it lets us touch what life is". He also commented very positively about Ejiofor's performance, while further stating, "12 Years a Slave lets us stare at the primal sin of America with open eyes, and at moments it is hard to watch, yet it's a movie of such humanity and grace that at every moment, you feel you're seeing something essential. It is Chiwetel Ejiofor's extraordinary performance that holds the movie together, and that allows us to watch it without blinking. He plays Solomon with a powerful inner strength, yet he never soft-pedals the silent nightmare that is Solomon's daily existence." Forrest Wickman of Slate wrote of Northup's book giving a more favorable account of the author's onetime master, William Ford, than the McQueen film. In Northup's own words, "There never was a more kind, noble, candid, Christian man than William Ford," adding that Ford's circumstances "blinded [Ford] to the inherent wrong at the bottom of the system of Slavery." The movie, however, according to Wickham, "frequently undermines Ford."

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of The A.V. Club opined that McQueen is "essentially tone-deaf when it comes to performance, and skirts by on casting". The film "lacks a necessary emotional continuity. I don't think it's something the movie is denying in the way it intentionally denies so many other conventions; it's still structured around an ending that's supposed to function as a release, but because it can't organize that sense of catharsis it so badly needs, it just feels as though McQueen is scurrying for an exit. Also: The cast is wildly uneven." The movie is based on the real life and writings of Solomon Northrup, a free man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery from 1841-53. Northrup's story provides us a look inside the despicable institution of slavery. Needless to say, it's a painful and sad process made even more emotional by the work of director Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame). McQueen takes a very direct approach. Not much is left to the imagination. Torture, abuse, cruelty and misery take up the full screen. The only subtlety comes from the terrific work of Chiwetel Ejiofor as Northrup. His facial expressions and eyes are more powerful and telling than any lines of dialogue could be. (Source: www.imdb.com)

YEARS

“12 Years a Slave” isn’t the first movie about slavery in the United States — but it may be the one that finally makes it impossible for American cinema to continue to sell the ugly lies it’s been hawking for more than a century. Written by John Ridley and directed by Steve McQueen, it tells the true story of Solomon Northup, an African-American freeman who, in 1841, was snatched off the streets of Washington, and sold. It’s at once a familiar, utterly strange and deeply American story in which the period trappings long beloved by Hollywood — the paternalistic gentry with their pretty plantations, their genteel manners and all the fiddle-dee-dee rest — are the backdrop for an outrage.Unlike most of the enslaved people whose fate he shared for a dozen years, the real Northup was born into freedom. (His memoir’s telegraphing subtitle is “Narrative of Solomon Northup, a Citizen of New-York, Kidnapped in Washington City in 1841, and Rescued in 1853, From a Cotton Plantation Near the Red River, in Louisiana.”) That made him an exceptional historical witness, because even while he was inside slavery — physically, psychologically, emotionally — part of him remained intellectually and culturally at a remove, which gives his book a powerful double perspective. In the North, he experienced some of the privileges of whiteness, and while he couldn’t vote, he could enjoy an outing with his family. Even so, he was still a black man in antebellum America.

Mr. McQueen is a British visual artist who made a rough transition to movie directing with his first two features, “Hunger” and “Shame,” both of which were embalmed in self-promoting visuals. “Hunger” is the sort of art film that makes a show of just how perfectly its protagonist, the Irish dissident Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender), smears his excrement on a prison wall. “Shame,” about a sex addict (Mr. Fassbender again), was little more than glossy surfaces, canned misery and preening directorial virtuosity. For “12 Years a Slave,” by contrast, Mr. McQueen has largely dispensed with the conventions of art cinema to make something close to a classical narrative; in this movie, the emphasis isn’t on visual style but on Solomon and his unmistakable desire for freedom.This is Solomon’s own declaration of independence, and an assertion of his humanity that sustains him. It’s also a seamlessly structured scene that turns a discussion about the choices facing enslaved people — fight, submit, live — into cinema. In large part, “12 Years a Slave” is an argument about American slavery that, in image after image, both reveals it as a system (signified in one scene by the sights and ominous, mechanical sounds of a boat water wheel) and demolishes its canards, myths and cherished symbols. There are no lovable masters here or cheerful slaves. There are also no messages, wagging fingers or final-act summations or sermons. Mr. McQueen’s method is more effective and subversive because of its primarily old-fashioned, Hollywood-style engagement. (Source: www.nytimes.com)

 

 

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