“12 Years a Slave,” an autobiography written by Solomon Northup in 1853, tells his story of 12 years living as a slave on Louisiana plantations after being abducted as a free man.
The film, directed by Steve McQueen and starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Paul Giamatti, Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender and Paul Dano, follows Northup throughout his life, cutting between his brutal years as a slave and the time when he lived as a free man in upstate New York.
After a 20-year career filled mostly with short films—to his credit—McQueen gives us maybe the most accurate depiction of the unthinkable life of slavery in film.
McQueen’s style of directing, where there are many moments of aloneness and the main character is generally going through extreme adversity, is found only in his other films, “Hunger” (2008) and “Shame” (2011). In “Hunger,” Michael Fassbender plays the role of the imprisoned Irish Republican Army member Bobby Sands, leader of the 1981 hunger strike. “Shame,” also starring Fassbender, follows a sex addict living in New York City who struggles to balance his life.
In “12 Years a Slave,” elements of McQueen’s directing are seen as there are many moments of aloneness with Northup, which may leave viewers either compelled and rooting for the protagonist or bored and asleep in their chair.
However, most of the credit for the film’s success should go to Ejiofor, who takes on a challenging role to portray and delivers a career performance.
Expect awards to be received by Ejiofor and Fassbender, who plays the role of Northup’s brutal plantation owner in an over-the-top way that is so compelling it balances the scales between his performance and that of Ejiofor’ s in Fassbender’s third collaboration with McQueen.
Giamatti and Pitt both make surprising and well-acted appearances—as usual—and you can’t help but picture Lt. Aldo Raine from “Inglorious Basterds” (2009) with Pitt’s accent in the movie.
If you don’t cheer or bawl your eyes out while watching this movie, it’s just what Aldo said: “You just say ‘bingo’.”