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Oscar Bait Season: 12 Years a Slave


Reviewed by Jordan Goodier

If this film happened to slip your notice, I have just on question for you. Have you been sleeping under a rock? It’s hard to mention popular films at the moment without this particular film popping up in conversation. This one is rumoured to have a better chance at winning the “Best Picture” award at both the BAFTAs and the Academy Awards, than any of the other films currently nominated. As I sit here writing on the day of the BAFTA awards, not knowing who will win what, I can’t help but hope 12 Years wins a very large amount of them. This film may not be my particular favourite out of the run of Oscar Bait films that 2013 threw at us, but it’s made spectacularly well and it is an incredible film. I have to wonder though, on the back of a lecture I attended only a few days ago, in which a BAFTA award winning producer came in and gave us tips on producing and pitching our films; one of the important things that stuck in my mind was the question “Is your film relevant to a modern audience?” Now, I only wonder this, because we know that slavery was an absolutely appalling part of the world’s history and it’s a heavy subject that has been covered more than once in recent years. Whether this film is relevant or not is not something I’ll answer, but it’s something to think about – food for thought.

For those that have been living under a rock for the past few months, 12 Years a Slave is a historical drama film based on an adaptation of a 1853 memoir of the same name by Solomon Northup. Solomon was a man born in New York as a free man, as were his family. He is tricked one night and kidnapped and then transported down to the plantations in Louisiana, where is sold into slavery and forced to work for twelve years.

The film boasts an all star cast with Chiwetel Ejiofor (I will never be able to pronounce this wonderful actors name), Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti and the excellent Paul Dano (who appeared in Prisoners last year as well). But, of course, every actor who appears in this film is incredible.

One of the stand-out performers of the film though is newcomer Lupita Amondi Nyong’o, for whom this is her first feature film. This actress has a bright future ahead of her as the performance she gave in the film was phenomenal. The stand out scene for me, and many others, is the incredibly brutal and difficult to watch sequence in which Solomon is forced by his slave owner to whip Patsey. Powerful acting by the performers here as well as some fantastic visual effects and make up, make this one of the best scenes in the film for me. Any scene with Paul Dano was also a highlight for me, this actor is quickly becoming one of my favourites and I hope he gets much more recognition because he is overflowing with acting talent. Cumberbatch and Pitt also played characters that I loved, for different reasons. Cumberbatch as a slave owner who “tries” to do what he believes is right as best he can; case in point, he treats his slaves kindly and with respect, but he’s still a slave owner; very interesting character.  Pitt’s character was just incredibly likable because he had a very progressive way of thinking for the time in which he was alive, and he also saves the main character’s life, so what’s not to like?

I feel the cinematography on this film was excellent and, for me, was reminiscent of the film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” Not quite to the standards of that film, but still pretty fantastic. Likewise, the directing of this film is as good as you’d expect from a film of this calibre. Steve McQueen knows exactly what to do with his shots and his performers to create the most impact on the audience. There are some moments of dialogue in the screenplay (written by John Ridley) that make you think “hmm, that sounds a little too pretentious to be realistic” and brings you out of the film for a moment, but this is a very rare occurrence.

There’s no more praise that I can throw on this film that hasn’t already been throw on it. I’ve exhausted my supply of celebratory words. Everyone is saying that this film is amazing, and they’d be right. It really is. Crafted by the best in the industry at the moment, 12 Years a Slave is a triumph. A great big one. My only gripe with this film, would be with some of the dialogue, it sounds a little unrealistic and a little pretentious. But that’s all that’s wrong with this film. There are far too many people involved with this film and I don’t have access to all their names, but every single one of them did a damn fine job and it should be acknowledged; as with all great films I suppose, but I usually forget to direct praise at everyone involved. Rambling now over, listen to what everyone has been saying and go and see this film! It’s worth your time and your money. Also, hasn’t Chiwetel Ejiofor come a long way since Love Actually? What an actor.

Verdict: 9/10

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  • GoodYear92

    Also, hasn’t Chiwetel Ejiofor come a long way since Love Actually? What an actor.

    Agreed! I’ve been a massive fan of his since The Shadow Line, where he gave such an outstanding performance, amidst a cast that was extremely talented and consistently impressive in their own right (Christopher Eccleston, Stephen Rea, Antony Sher, etc.).

    I’m so, so glad that he landed this role (apparently, it was no contest; Ejiofor was Steve McQueen’s first and only choice for Solomon) and his talent has now been recognised by so many. This was definitely one of my favourite films of 2013 (Prisoners, though, was my absolute favourite), and I completely agree with your fantastic assessment of it, Jordan. This Oscar Bait series has been brilliant all the way through thus far. Well done!


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