Twelve Years a Slave

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 11.45.00 AMSince no one has said much negative about “Twelve Years a Slave,” let me weigh in on the dissenting side. The film seems to me to be a good deed, but not a very good movie. It wears its moral superiority on its sleeve, and presents a picture of the horrors of slavery that is no doubt accurate, but blunt and very familiar — and very long. No banality of evil here: sadistic masters, long-suffering victims, and lots of whips and chains. I know we are supposed to be chastened by all this, and I suppose I was, but it felt a lot like civics class to me. A couple of great scenes and some beautiful photography don’t replace a nuanced point of view about America’s great sin.

Jack Viertel


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Posted: 10/31/13 by Coco Kopelman

Screen Shot 2013-10-30 at 1.03.11 PMI found the trailer so difficult to watch, that I never thought I would subject myself to over two hours of enduring man’s brutality to man. Yet the story it presented, based on a true incident, was so terrifying and so compelling that I realized that in order to see what promised to be an important film, I had to steel myself and let my low tolerance of extreme cruelty take a back seat.

The protagonist in this plot, Solomon Northup, leaves his comfortable life as a fiddle player in Saratoga, lured by the promise of a lucrative gig in Washington D.C., only to find himself drugged and shackled, and swiftly sold as a slave. The hopelessness of his situation goes from bad to worse as he’s traded from a somewhat benevolent master (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) to the cotton fields of the dreaded Master Epps, brought to frightening life by Michael Fassbender. This character is the embodiment of evil, and will continue to haunt me as a manipulative and dangerous being who torments his slaves both physically and sexually. And his wife is no picnic either.Screen Shot 2013-10-30 at 12.58.23 PM

The director Steve McQueen gives us a big movie, with evocative scenes of plantation life where the heat and the length of days are palpable and make you experience, through its languid pace, every chapter of our hero’s miserable existence. Thankfully, as the title informs us, this is limited to a number of years, though not for the poor souls that are left behind, and the sadness of this harsh reality is hard to shake when the film ends.

The performances are top notch —- many big names playing small roles -— but people are going to have to practice saying the star’s name (Chiwetel Ejiofor) as he is sure to be on every award list.


Posted: 10/31/13 by Martin McKerrow
We took in this well-reviewed movie over the weekend. We are certainly in agreement with the reviews, that this is a powerful very well-acted (by a wonderful cast) movie about slavery in the United States. If you’ve read the reviews you know that it spares very little in its depiction of what slave life must have been like. Chiwetel Ejiofor is marvelous in the lead role of Solomon Northup, a freed man sold into slavery, as is Michael Fassbender in the role of Erwin Eps, the demented plantation owner. It is pretty grim watching, and we Screen Shot 2013-10-30 at 1.53.04 PMfound ourselves on the edge of our seats. I had to turn my head away from the screen twice. The New Yorker has called it the best film about slavery ever, and while not in a position to judge that statement, this is certainly well worth seeing. One would expect some Oscar buzz about the film.

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