Saturday, February 22, 2014

Thursday 20 February - 12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave opened in Pathe Cinemas around The Netherlands this week. Steve O'Regan and myself visited the favoured Pathe Buitenhof on Thursday evening this week for our viewing pleasure.  Steve McQueen's powerful film which retells the story of the deception of  Solomon Northup which saw him sold into slavery by a pair of unscrupulous men, pulls no punches.
The brutality and despair experienced by those who found themselves ripped from their families and transported as slave labour to the cotton and sugar cane plantations of the Southern States, is shown with very little sentiment.... striking was the fear engendered in the slaves which showed them  pointedly ignoring those who were being tortured or left to die by their owners...often having to leave them to die and carry on with their lives seemingly not noticing the scene before them.

One of my minor quibbles with the production is that on occasion scenes are held for too long. I realise that the long scene where Solomon's face expresses the absolute despair felt was extended for effect.... it did linger for too long, I would have preferred it to have drawn away leaving Solomon alone in the landscape. There were other scenes which would have benefited from a tighter editing.

The performances however were however memorable. Chewetel Echiofor puts in the performance of his career so far as his emotions run from the joy of life with his 'free' family, to the depths as he realises that he should have assisted Patsey in her wish to die with dignity.
Patsey is played with tremendous empathy by the newcomer Lupita Nyong'o who has been rightfully identified as a 'best newcomer' at awards cermonies.
Micheal Fassbender portryal of  the hard drinking, violent, and  power crazed plantation owner Edwin Epps, is a triumph, as is Sarah Paulson as Mistress Epps. Paulson shines a more stark and honest light onto the 'southern belle'. So often shown in films from the 1950's and 60's as polite refined and cultured ladies who 'civilize' their oft brutal plantation owner husbands.
Mistress Epps is brutalised by her husbands predilections, this leads her character to bristle with malevolence towards slave girl Patsey and others.... you would not want to get on the wrong side of either of the Epp's.
Other supporting character roles ably support the story, Paul Dano, Benedict Cumberbatch and Alfre Woodard exhibit great presence on the big screen. Brad Pitt's character is required to enable the end of Solomon's story, however unusually for Pitt he doesn't seem to find the mood of the film, he appears somehow too knowing and on the 'outside' of the drama.
Even with its shortcomings which include probably being 20-30 minutes too long (134 minutes!).... and the over use of lingering shots, I can forgive McQueen and the cast... the story is powerful and did leave a lasting impression on this cinema-goer.
I would give 12 Years a Slave 9 out of 10.

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