Journal Express, Knoxville, IA

December 26, 2013

Movie Review: 12 Years a Slave

Steve Woodhouse

Knoxville — Chiwetel Ejiofor deserves a nod for best actor in the film “12 Years A Slave.” This is an outstanding movie that has definitely earned the acclaim it has received. 

Ejiofor plays Solomon Northup, a successful violin player from New York who is somehow sold in to slavery. The film is unclear as to what happened to him, beyond accepting an invitation to travel with two white musicians. During a meal, he is drugged. 

When he realizes he has been sold into slavery, Northup does what anyone would do, and tries to explain whom he really is. He is rewarded with punishment for these efforts, and soon realizes that his best chance for survival is to accept the situation and try to get along until the opportunity to reclaim his freedom presents itself. 

The film is based upon writings the real-life Northup left behind. Director Steve McQueen does a masterful job of demonstrating this dark “fish out of water” tale, bringing the educated, cultured Northup into the ignorance and brutality of the pre-Civil War South. McQueen wisely limits the number of scenes of brutality, but does not avoid the reality of the cruel nature of slavery and slave owners. He provides equal time to demonstrate the humanity of the slaves as well as the hearts of those who fought and opposed the practice. 

Ejiofor carries the film as it is his story and is aided by many strong supporting performances, the best of which was by Michael Fassbender. Fassbender portrays Northup's most cruel owner, Edwin Epps. Epps is an alcoholic who is submissive to his wife (played well by Sarah Paulson) and cannot control his attraction to one of his slaves. Fassbender's performance lets us see how truly weak a common slaveowner was, who could only hide the shame of his many shortcomings behind booze and a whip. 

I recommend this movie, but obviously not for everyone. Be prepared for the violence, which in no way clouds the film's ability to touch you, and leave you with a deeper respect for the resilience men like Northup showed during this dark period of our country's history.