Jeff's Reviews

Thoughts on every movie I've ever seen.

12 Years a Slave (2013)

Directed by Steve McQueen

Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Dwight Henry, Dickie Gravois, Bryan Batt


A very realistic, depressing, and gruesome look at an unfortunate period in American history. What we have in this film is a valuable historical document for those who want to know what slavery in the US was really like. But where’s the dramatic arc? Where’s the personal story of growth and change? Northup’s the victim of a hopeless situation, but is victimization enough for a movie?

A film about Jews during the Holocaust would undoubtedly be depressing, but is the somber subject matter what made Schindler’s List such a moving story? No. There were Schindler and Stern’s personal stories about growth and change and redemption, with the Holocaust as a backdrop. What happens in this one? Does Northup grow and change? Not really. Instead, we experience constant anguish and hopelessness and gore. We’re almost reveling in it, like Gibson did with Jesus in Passion of the Christ.

Despite my qualms about his character, Ejiofor’s really good. Nyong’o turns in a nice supporting performance. Fassbender and Pitt do their part. It’s always easy to hate Paul Dano.

Seemingly faithful to Northup’s autobiography, and polished direction by McQueen. The story jumps around a bit, and I’m not quite sure why since it doesn’t seem to happen purposefully. It’s interesting that one of the most intense films abut American slavery was made by a Brit.

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