Friday, March 14, 2014

12 Years a Slave

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion, that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching! Normally, I put a joke here but I got nothing.

12 Years a Slave – 4 out of 5

Until this film came out, I had never heard of Solomon Northup or his memoirs about his hell he went through in 1841. The man’s story is heartbreaking and powerful and, for the most part, the film and director Steve McQueen (seriously, how lucky is he to share his name with the late star of Bullitt? It’s just as cool as how I share my name with Ron Swanson from Parks & Rec.) did a fantastic job of hitting all that power and emotion. However, and I know this is a very unpopular opinion, I can’t help but feel the film is overrated. Now, before you rush to comment and call me a racist, read my reasons why I feel this movie is good but not great.

Don't get mad, Ejiofor...let me explain.

Looking at this picture makes me want to whistle "The Farmer
in the Dell."  Fans of The Wire know what I'm
talking about!
Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free man living in one of the worse times in American history. One day, he is kidnapped and stolen away from his life and his family and is sold into slavery. There he goes from one owner to the next and spends the next 12 years of his life as a possession and is forced to endure the heartache of never seeing his family again and watching the brutality his people is undergoing during this era. Eventually, Northup finds a kind-hearted soul to hear his story and agrees to risk his life and get a letter out. Soon, the truth about his disappearance, the kidnapping and his former free life is brought to light and Northup is reunited with his family and set free.

And after he's set free, so were the tears from behind my eyes.

12 Years a Slave tells an amazing story and the cast it’s awesome. Chiwetel Ejiofor is fantastic as Solomon Northup and you really feel the utter hopelessness he has given into and he is backed up by a great performance from Michael Fassbender who really provides a tremendous antagonist for the story. It’s a powerful and emotional tale and I’m not afraid to admit that I cried at the end when Northup got to see his family again…but, like I stated in the first paragraph, I can’t help but feel this movie is highly overrated. While it’s a good movie, there were a lot of elements that kept it from being as epic as I heard it was and definitely kept it from being the Best Picture film that the Academy presented it as.

I have no reason to include this still of Fassbender beyond the fact it makes me smile.

Hey look, it's Paul Dano...and he's gone a scene later.
My biggest complaint with the movie is the plot is really sloppy. I understand the writers didn’t want to stray from Northup’s diary and wanted to keep the film entirely focused on his journey through this very sad and terrifying nightmare but this ended up making the film lack any sense of time passing and it made the editing look chaotic and amateurish. Slave owners and characters will be introduced into Northup’s life and, before we even get a chance to learn their names, they are gone and the story is wildly thrown into the next entry of Northup’s path. I never got a sense that 12 years was passing for Northup. Honestly, the film felt like only a few weeks were going by and then, all of a sudden, he has gray hair when they come to free him and I was like, “Oh, I guess 12 years have gone by.”

Seriously, it didn't feel like 12 years.

It's like these two had ten minutes to kill so they
decided to be in the movie.
This sloppy approach to the years Northup suffered is only enhanced with the cast of big name actors and weak development the non-Northup characters get. I understand the film is meant to be entirely about what Northup went through and the horrible brutality he endured and witnessed but having big name actors like Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano and Brad Pitt show up for a scene, barely get established who they are and disappear less than two minutes later made the film feel incomplete, like there were tons of deleted scenes left on the cutting room floor. Secondly, adding these big name actors made the film feel like a spectacle; like the actors KNEW this would be a film to win an Oscar so they attached themselves to roles that could have easily gone to character actors who usually fill these small parts.

"Seriously, guys, this movie is a sure thing!  Let's get everybody in on this."

I love the story of 12 Years a Slave and the film is an uncompromising look at the horrors of slavery and the dark times our nation went through. The performances are amazing (even if there wasn’t a need for all the big names) and the film definitely strikes a chord…but I couldn’t help but think it could have been better. I acknowledge that they film was suppose to be entirely centered around Northup but I can’t help but think that the emotional imprint the film left could have been even larger if we got to see how his family was coping with his sudden disappearance or the frantic search for him. Without these elements, the film just felt like it wasn’t done and it kept the movie from being something truly amazing for me and it, ultimately, made a potentially great film into nothing more than a passably good one.

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