12 Years a Slave

Reviews Films


Nominated for nine Oscars, and having already won Best Picture at the Golden Globes, you could say there is just a little bit of ‘buzz’ surrounding 12 YEARS A SLAVE …

Based on the memoir of the same name, 12 YEARS A SLAVE tells the horrific true story of Solomon Northup, a free man from New York who is lured to Washington, kidnapped and sold into slavery. It’s a harrowing ordeal lasting (you guessed it) 12 years.

It certainly is an incredible story. Sure there’s been plenty of slavery-related movies before, but none quite pack the punch plot-wise that this film does.

Director Steve McQueen may be the king of shorts (he has directed only two full-length films, HUNGER and SHAME, while he has made 20+ short films), yet there is nothing snappy about his features. Like his two films before it, 12 YEARS A SLAVE demands a lot of patience.

Despite the poster depicting what appears to be a runaway slave, don’t expect any pace here. The film intentionally crawls along, with long, purposefully awkward takes (though none nearly as lengthy as the 17-minute shot in HUNGER).

While it requires some endurance from the audience, the dragging feeling of the film is ultimately reflective of the arduous nature of Solomon’s ordeal. It’s an excellent production choice and is to be applauded.

The cinematography presents a few minor issues. While there’s some lovely imagery, the film is shot very closely; tight shots are definitely the order of the day! This is no doubt done in an attempt to create intimacy, however it often results in basic composition and slightly awkward framing.

It could also be argued that some of the power is lost; sometimes to fully appreciate the gravity of a situation, taking a step away can be far more effective then coming closer…

Chiwetel Ejiofor is utterly convincing as Solomon, though the real stand out is Michael Fassbender as the undeniably evil cotton plantation owner. Fassbender throws himself into his performance with real fervor – so much so that he reportedly passed out after completing a particularly disturbing scene.

Admittedly, it does feel a bit like a game of ‘spot the A-lister’ with big wigs like Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano and Paul Giamatti popping up here and there. While these actors bring immense talent and appeal to the project, it is a tad distracting – and I’d be lying if I said they have all mastered their accents!

12 YEARS A SLAVE has been hailed as “essential viewing”…. I’d agree with that.

One critic went so far as to label it “the greatest film of all time”…. I don’t agree with that. Sorry.

With an amazing and heart wrenching story, it’s no doubt a film that should have been made, and it has been made very well. Yet it does not go anywhere that other movies surrounding slavery haven’t before.

It’s a horrific mark on America’s history and an unbelievable true story which perhaps has more to do with the film’s huge success in the U.S then the movie’s actual merits. It’s a great film and I do recommend watching it, but I’m afraid I shan’t be awarding it my ‘greatest film of all time’ badge.

I award it 7 stars.


Sian's love for movies spawned from having a tight mother whose generosity stretched only to hiring movies once a week for entertainment. As a pre-teen Sian spent more pocket money then she earned on cinema tickets and thus sought a job at the cinema. Over the next decade she rose to be one of the greats in her backwater, six-screen cinema complex, zooming through the ranks from candy bar wench with upselling superpowers, to pasty projectionist, to a manager rocking a pencil skirt. Sian went on to study Journalism at university though feels her popcorn shovelling days were far more educational