Thursday, June 19, 2014

12 Years a Slave ★★★★

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    If there was ever a film to achieve the insurmountable task of capturing the barbarous realities of the nineteenth-century American South, it would be the 2013 historical drama entitled "12 Years a Slave." Adapted from the memoirs of Solomon Northup himself, this is a powerful film that seeks to delve into one of the darkest hours of humanity; it is a film that forces us to endure the sorrow and alienation set forth by our ancestors. With superb direction and limitless performances, this picture cements itself as the epitome of human struggle and redemption.

    Solomon Northup is a free African-American man in a time when freedom was a despairing notion. He makes an honest living as a musician whose expertise is that of the violin. Northup also has a loving family consisting of a wife and two children. Never has he experienced the hardships endured by the countless number of his peers.

    However, after accepting a job in Washington, D.C. that would see him to be absent for a fortnight, Northup will become the victim of a treacherous effort to exploit an African-American male for prosperity; a devious act that will change his life forever.

    The role of Solomon Northup is characterized by a complex amalgam of despair and hope. Chiwetel Ejiofor, an established actor with a relatively unknown body of work, portrays this kidnapped and tortured soul. This is an extremely delicate role to embrace, and it is clear that Ejiofor was prepared for the undertaking. This character all but encompasses our actor, as it is rare to see such professionalism executed through dialogue and emotion.

    Ejiofor's tools as an actor are as sharp as can be permitted, thus penetrating our blockade of impartiality scene after tension-filled scene; consequently, charming our hearts with an unforeseen zealousness. It becomes apparent that we are no longer viewing an actor in a specific role, but a man who is battling his inner encumbrances to provide us with a tapestry of emotion.

    After the abduction is complete, Northup is branded with the name of Platt and sold to a plantation owner in New Orleans, Louisiana. His life becomes routine and, although he isn't dealt much brutality or mistreatment, a lowly overseer does begin to agonize him--not for the color of his skin, but for his excelling skill as a craftsman and for his intelligent solutions to problem-solving. His life ultimately becomes endangered and the owner, who is a relatively compassionate man, agrees to sell him to another plantation in order to relieve him of peril.

    Edwin Epps, a stern and uncompromising plantation owner, becomes the recipient of Northup. This man will test Northup's ability, not only as a field worker but as a dignified human being. The work is unrelentingly rigorous, and it is clear that Epps' empathy for African-Americans has vanished, along with the perceived notion that a man with a darker complexion is still indeed a man and not a disposable piece of property. This relationship will culminate in a series of tension-filled scenes that will put you on edge and astonish the facets of the mind.

    Michael Fassbender, a personal favorite of mine among today's young collection of actors, is Edwin Epps. This depiction is a very important display of human nature found among nineteenth-century plantation owners. Epps not only believes that it is his God-given right to detain his slaves, but feels that he may do so with guiltless pride. One of the more startling relationships that contributes to this film is the dynamic bond between Epps and a young female slave named Patsey.

    Epps loves Patsey for her work ethic and is bound to her by his unwarranted sexual desires. This leads to an inner feeling of mortification and revulsion, which he subsequently releases in the form of anger upon his workers. Fassbender is impeccable as this portrait of a man fueled by self-righteousness. His delivery is unmatched in confidence and passion.

    A vital aspect of Fassbender's performance can be attributed to his chemistry with his fellow actors and actresses off screen. This includes Lupita Nyong'o, the Academy Award winner for best supporting actress for her portrayal of Patsey. Nyong'o brings a fresh face to a role filled with chaos. It is quite refreshing to see a young and talented actress succeed with little experience on her resume. Although Patsey may not be an integral constituent of the film, her importance lies within her relationship to Solomon and Epps; without Patsey, Epps loses all sense of temperament.

    "12 Years a Slave" is a film enshrouded by pain. There are several beautiful sequences and shots featuring the serene and tranquil atmosphere of the surrounding nature, as the film progresses in a completely opposing manner. And here lies the elegance of film. For, it is not so much about what's said by the characters or actions that are boldly highlighted to exercise a certain point, but what the camera relinquishes to the viewer.

    There is a scene that features Solomon near death, unable to speak or virtually move. As the camera settles on this horrendous scene, we almost certainly assure ourselves that something will happen to relieve the silence. That moment does come, but not for a few anxiety-filled minutes, which enables us to calmly examine the circumstance at hand. It is within this silence that we begin to become one with this tormented individual. Without that bond, a film will essentially become a fragment of incapability.

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