Some believe that America is still paying a karmic debt for the kidnapping, enslavement, and centuries-long degradation of millions of Africans. Watching UK-director Steve McQueen's brutally honest film 12 Years A Slave leaves no room for doubt that we deserve to. This brave, disturbing movie tells the story of free Saratoga-based black man -- Solomon Northup -- who is kidnapped by circus carnies and sold into slavery in 1841. Scripted by John Ridley, it's based on a memoir written by Mr. Northup in 1851 after he had finally won his freedom. Played with transcendental brilliance by the English actor Chiwetel Ejofor, one feels as if he were channeling the soul of every African ever held in American captivity.
Michael Fassbender (Edwin Epps) plays a drunken, psychotic plantation master with a deep fixation with his property. His wife, played by Sarah Paulson, is even more ruthless. Her outrage and hatred of her husband's predatory sexual relationship with one of his slaves (Lupita Nyong'o) is one of the more sinister plot lines. It does not end well for anyone.
Paul Dano (Tibeats) and Paul Giamatti (Freeman) both play despicable characters as well. Brad Pitt's screen time as a empathetic Canadian working in the South, while minimal is crucial to the story, coming just at the right time. Ideally, that he is, as well, a producer on the film will raise its profile and help it to reach a wide audience.
What is most remarkable about the film is how McQueen's camera catches the hopelessness of a situation in a mere static shot of an actor's face, holding the shot for minutes on end, letting the expression refract into our collective psyche. That happens time and time throughout. It leaves one exhausted. But the point is made, the message is delivered. In the end, all the slave owners, even those who feel some sympathy for their prisoners, consider their slaves to be non-humans.
Make no mistake, this film is not for the squeamish. You cannot take your eyes off the screen even during the most horrific whippings, lynchings or rape scenes. Yes, we've read about the injustices, but to see them depicted so vividly and believably in this award-worthy film is an astounding achievement.
Recently, there have been many Hollywood films examining the injustices inflicted on African-Americans -- The Help, Djanjo Unchained, Lincoln, The Butler -- but this is the best and most powerful of the lot.
Required viewing for all citizens of the world. A movie for the ages. - Dusty Wright