Read a few reviews of 12 Years A Slave, even after hearing of the brutality of the film, it still did not prepare me for the actual screening.
In 1841 New York, Solomon Northup is a free black man. He holds a job as a violinist in in Saratoga and is a respected man of the community. Two men promise him good work in Washington, D.C., he goes there with them, is drugged, then sold into slavery.
From there we are witness to a story of evil plantation owners, their sadistic farm hands and some gruesome scenes of whippings, lynchings and overall malice. In between we see some beautiful visuals, I can't help but compare them to Day of Wrath, and some compelling performances.
Director Steve McQueen tells Northup's story, it's based on his 1853 memoir, in an unflinching manner. His style is direct, rarely preachy as he shows what is probably the most honest portrayal of slavery on screen to date. It was cruel, there was nothing sunny about it, and it is still an undercurrent of society today.
For the most part, the cast is outstanding. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Northup straight, resigned to his fate but always looking for a way home. He wants more than to survive his ordeal, but to live. Newcomer Lupita Nyong'o is Patsey, a slave who catches the eye of Epps (Michael Fassbender) the vilest of vile plantation owners. The one miscast is Brad Pitt, one of the executive producers of the film, who, thankfully, only shows up late in the film as a transient worker.
It's hard to watch scenes of slaves going about their day to day work in the background while the focus is on scenes of quiet and shocking acts of torture. McQueen's skill at depicting these scenes was incredible.
I do not know how to hand out award nominations for this film. How do you decide to give a best actor/actress award to an actor who expertly dishes out or receives a whipping? It's a numbing experience. One that needed to be created, then viewed.