At long last, a film by Steve McQueen has made it to our multiplexes. Here, the British video artist-turned-filmmaker casts an unflinching eye toward racial abuse in pre-Civil War America. Based on the memoirs of Solomon Northup, the slave of the title was born free.
An accomplished violinist living with his wife and children in New York, he (Ejiofor) is lured by an offer of employment in Washington DC. Drugged and taken hostage, he wakes up to find himself clapped in chains. Stripped of his name and identity and sold into servitude, Northup endures a dozen nightmarish years in bondage.
Working with his regular cinematographer, Sean Bobbitt, McQueen maintains an emotionally-wrenching momentum. In one surreal encounter, Northup and his fellow slaves share a moment of brief respite with a band of Native Indians.
Sarah Paulson is a standout in the supporting role of the insanely jealous mistress. But none of his co-stars take prominence over Chiwetel Ejiofor who manages the physical and emotional demands of his character with grace and gravitas. There is no doubting Steve McQueen’s commitment, compassion and craftsmanship. Which is to say, 12 Years A Slave is essential viewing.
Direction: Steve McQueen
Actors: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o
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