Movie Review: 12 Years a Slave [2013]

Next film on my Oscar watch list was Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave - a very beloved movie about true story of a freeman, Solomon Northup, being unlawfully enslaved for 12 years. Based on a book by Northup himself, the movie takes to a emotional and hard journey with a man from New York, betrayed by friends.

12 Years a Slave is this Oscar season's most talked movie - it's almost last year's Lincoln (I've not mentioned Spielberg's movie  by chance). 

Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free man, based in Saratoga, NY with his wife and two children, living a free and enjoyable life. He is a musician and masterfully plays violin. One day he gets a very nice offer to join a circus in Washington D.C. and he does not refuse - that's where it begins. Northup is being resold to number different owners who differently treat him, some are more humble and appreciate his music talent, for instance, Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) and some are more severe just like Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender)- the last proprietor. But he survives all of them, because he is right, he is free and he knows what freedom means. 

The movie is a very well done picture in every sense started from production design to directing, writing and acting. It successfully meets any award formula to be called the best, but is it really that good? Well, not really. It does not mean that "masterful" and brilliant, as said.

Technical works are done pretty awesomely - art direction and costumes are great, exactly expressing the spirit and reality of that time, so is hair styling. Cast is great. Chiwetel does a brilliant job portraying a real person struggling for his survival. He is emotional, consistent, confident - actually the best part of the film. Fassbender's last scenes are also a good piece of work that can for sure bring him an Oscar recognition. Also, Lupita Nyongo, who is not as outstanding as talked, has some charming moments during her pretty short performance. But she mostly does not go further than couple of tears. Her character is not very complex or does not evolve through the long hours of movie. But this emotional and physical violence on Patsey works in favor of her award chances. As for yet unrecognized performances of Sarah Paulson and Paul Dano, they are definitely great. Sarah, who plays Mistress Epps, revives a rigorous, yet nice, wife of slave owner, who can not stand her husband's sexual relationship with Patsey.

I think that the weakest part of 12 Years a Slave is screenplay. Since adaptations are not required to be "original", they have to be very smart and interesting. Dialogues in this film just seemed OK but nothing as special as a potential nominee for best adapted screenplay. Since we already know the story, there are no major plot twists or some "wow" moments, however, there are no even great lines. To compare with a similar movie premiered this year Lee Daniel's The Butler (well, which is original but still real life story) it had more inspiring & touching lines than John Ridley's adaptation. It is a shame that this movie might get an Oscar for its weakest part.

Steve McQueen deserves a recognition for directing work and an interesting transformation of real story to a well done motion picture. After staying unnoticed for Shame, he kind of followed "how to win Oscar guidelines" (if there are any) and composed an award-worthy movie.

But for me, 12 Years a Slave is not as great film as most people consider. It's a one time watch film, which I will forget pretty soon, because it did not emotionally connect with me and I believe it won't with many people. Despite telling a very dramatic story, I think, it lacks emotional frankness.

Oscar chances? It will grab a lot nominations, just like Lincoln. Actually, it got exactly the same Golden Globe, SAG and Critics nominations as Spielberg's film and 12YAS is predicted to reap the same Academy Award nominations too. Which means, that Best Picture, Directing, Writing, Lead Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress are locks, as well as some creative categories, like production design and costumes. But I don't see it in Original Score category, because it only has one track and it is no way better than Hans Zimmer's another (brilliant) work in Rush


  1. I agree that the screenplay definitely could have been better. It's not the masterpiece that everyone claims it is. However, I disagree with you on Lupita Nyong'o's performance. I also agree that her character could have been developed better, but Nyong'o gave me chills when she was standing up to Fassbender because of the soap.

    Oh well, opinions opinions :) haha

  2. What I mean to say is that I think Nyong'o gave one of the best supporting actress performances in recent years, and the best of the nominees this year :)

  3. yeah, opinions, opinions :)))) well she is no way bad, or average. Lupita is one of this years bets, I guess, but I personally like Jennifer a lot more than her. But whatever happens at Oscars, she deserves a trophy