12 Years A Slave, but decades a classic

primary_12-years-a-slave-trailerSTEVE McQueen is on the verge of becoming the first director to win both The Turner Prize and the Academy Award for Best Director. 12 Years A Slave is wonderful in its brutality, and its depiction of a true story that if you made it up you would have been asked from which realm of fantasy you had recently travelled.

Chiwetel Ejiofor is masterful as Solomon Northup, playing his role with such emotional and physical awareness that for me if he does not win the statuette in Los Angeles on March 2nd, I for one will be asking questions. For those who are yet to see it, chart how through the picture his stance gradually slumps, in line with his social status. Such pervasive sense of physical behaviour sets him apart this awards season.

Michael Fassbender as the psychotic slave owner Epps with adulterous tendencies towards Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o), who comes as an outsider to the Best Actress category and is fully deserving of her Oscar nomination. To make such a strong on-screen debut should be applauded, and more work in the cinematic elite is sure to follow. Fassbender, similar to his role in Shame alongside Carey Mulligan, plays the troubled and private psychopath so well, you begin to wonder how stable he is off screen. All joking aside, he is brilliant.

Benedict Cumberbatch is without equal at this point in time. 2013 was his year, and he has taken ownership of his craft. His exposure and elasticity of character depiction has made all other British actors and actresses alike take a back seat this year. When given an opportunity to play a role, regardless if it is a title role or secondary to the star, he plays his characters with such believability that the art of treading the boards and looking down a camera lens looks to be safe in such dependable hands. Cumberbatch plays Ford, who is compassionate in wanting to keep a female slave with her children, respectful and tender in his religious prophecies unlike Fassbender, sllowing Ejiofor as “Platt”-his slave name-to continue playing the violin.

download (6)I could not help but be struck by the social importance of this film. The attacks on the slaves liberties are barbaric, warts and all. What slave owners and people in the deep south did in the name of religion is shocking but expected, and the sense of ownership and property over human life will disgust you. In my screening, some walked out. The aspect of this historical biopic that hits so close to home is the fact that this is not fiction. This occurred, and its transition from page to screen looked over by the great custodian McQueen is timely and necessary.

It can be said that in blockbusters with big casts the cast is either too big for the story, or the cast overshadows each other and the story, like jockeys looking for the racing line. This is not a criticism that can be levelled at 12 Years A Slave. This is not to say that this film is perfect, because it is not, and I would not be surprised if it did not dominate The Oscars, given that this is and continues to be such a strong year for film. Some observers both critics and average Joes have criticised the film’s self-importance, as if it is saying “This is a true depiction of slavery and we’ve made it into a film, aren’t we fantastic?”. Self-aggrandising maybe, but the decorum and believability above all things of the actors makes this a fantastic film that will stand the test of time. It may not be on the list of greatest films ever made, but in five years time when you and a friend are discussing the dramatic merits of the films of the last quarter of a century, 12 Years A Slave will get a mention.

Sadly I fear that much like Morgan Freeman for 1994’s Shawshank Redemption, when people watch 12 Years A Slave on DVD and Blu-Ray in the coming months and years and then google Oscar Winners they will be astounded to find that Ejiofor did not win Best Actor and that Best Picture is an honour adorned on another film. 12 Years A Slave will be a victim of the industry’s success, through no fault of its own. Helpless. much like the subject it addresses. Fitting, don’t you think?

12 Years A Slave will be showing at the Commodore from this Friday (7th Feb), you can find the listings here.

Check out the official trailer: