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12 Years A Slave

Steve McQueen’s third film 12 Years A Slave has been getting serious Oscar buzz ever since its release, and while it deserves it for the performance by Chiwitel Ejifor, I’m not sure it really deserves candidacy for best picture.

Ejifor plays Solomon Northup, a free man that is drugged and sold in to slavery after agreeing to go play the fiddle in a touring circus.  Northup is an accomplished fiddle player, but he won’t be playing in the circus anytime soon.

Northup wakes up chained to a cellar floor and is soon transported to New Orleans, where his name is changed and he’s sold to a wealthy plantation owner.  Northup pleads to his captors and owner that he is a free man.  He should not be sold into slavery.  The longer and further he pleads the harder he is beaten.  Northup is forced to play the role of slave in order to save his own life.

He continues to change hands as a slave to numerous owners before coming in to contact with Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender).  The cruelest owner he has met yet.  Epps owns a cotton plantation, forcing everyone to pick cotton all day long, and if they pick less cotton than they did the day before they are severely beaten.  Epps shows particular affection for one of his slaves Patsey.  He has relations with Patsey underneath the watchful eye of his wife Mary (Sarah Paulson, American Horror Story).  Mary may be just as cruel as her husband, and Northup isn’t helping matters by trying to be a rock for Patsey.  It just thrusts him into the storm that is Epps.

Northup has no one to trust.  No one who believes he is who he says he is.  He becomes part of the slave world, succumbing to the realization that he is now also a slave.  He turns to his fiddle to keep some piece of mind, but the fiddle is what brought him into slavery, and also what covers up a lot of the horrible things he is surrounded by.  It becomes a crutch in that way.  He is terrified to speak up to those around him about who he truly is, but he continues to search for someone to trust….anyone.

Ejifor’s performance is nothing short of amazing, and I have no doubt that he’ll be taking home an Oscar that evening.  The film itself is well made, and it’s certainly an amazing story, but I actually was left wanting a little bit more, or at least felt like there was opportunity to build upon some of the extraordinary situations that Northup finds himself in.  The performances are really what drive 12 Years A Slave, but I feel like the script and eventually the anti-climactic ending of the film leave some things left on the table.

Grade: B+