One of our partners was invited to TIFF for the premiere of Life of Crime so I was lucky to be able to tag along with him and watch these two great films along with The Lunchbox. I didn't initially even think of writing a review because I would hate to discuss something that the majority of the public hasn't seen yet because public opinion would be limited. But, seeing the reviews that some have published has pushed me to write a review of my own.
In the beginning, the movie moves semi fast as far as getting into the central plot but not too fast that you don't get the opportunity to assess the characters. In fact, by the time Solomon (Ejiofor) is sold into slavery, in my opinion, his demeanor, education, and his family are established enough for you to invest enough emotion into him that by the end of the film you care enough about him to wonder if he and his family will ever be reunited.
I don't understand how someone can say that they were bored because they are desensitized by the beatings and tortures that African American slaves endured during that dark time. Odd analogy but, I cried at the end the movie Titanic not because I was unaware of the fact that the ship would sink and eventually be the demise of thousands of people but because the story telling grasped my attention and pulled at my heart strings. Same case with 12 Years. Yes, you know Solomon along with the other unfortunate souls will endure physical and emotional pain and you might be well familiar with the tools and methods they accomplished this with but it makes it no less shocking, sad, or important. I wonder if this person saw the same movie that I saw, if at all, because without spoiling too much of the movie, there is a torture scene in which the camera not only zooms into what's occurring but it also seems to last forever to the point where I was so uncomfortable that I wanted the scene to end. McQueen does this throughout this film (along with many of his other films), his scenes make you uncomfortable mostly because his camera lingers on scenes that are very hard to watch.
Surprisingly, the only time I got teary eyed was in a funeral scene where Ejiofor's acting shines and mostly with facial expressions (and some singing) you realize that he's finally succumbed to his situation versus how in the beginning he emotionally fought his sudden twist of fate. As far as the other actors, much has been said about Fassbander and Nyong'o's superior acting, rightly so, but I found myself being really impressed with Benedict Cumberbatch and Paul Dano's performances. Hopefully, we can all agree that Fassbander's character, Edwin Epps, is that of a tyrant and just an awful human being. Someone like that is easy to assess but Cumberbatch's William Ford is more complex. He's a slave owner yet he treats his slaves humanely, to an extent he cares about them but he definitely puts his and his families' interest above all, and although he doesn't partake in the beatings he sure doesn't interfere with the process. He makes you ask yourself if neutral people like him are good or bad for progress. I still don't know the answer to that. Paul Dano plays John Tibeats and his character is cruel and has horrible mood swings. The way he was played, I wondered if the person the character was based on had a mental disorder. He's uneducated (almost slow), not even respected within his peers, and overall just a loser. Not to make excuses for him but how could someone with those defects possibly be kind to another human being let alone a human who was considered inferior throughout that time. He too makes me question the hardships that other people, other than slaves, were going through during that time.
Overall, this film had a great narrative, strong performances from the entire cast, and I would definitely recommend this film. I do have two complaints, though. I too felt that the ending was a bit abrupt. In all fairness, I'm not sure what kind of closure I was expecting but I felt like much was left unsaid. My biggest gripe of all has to be the torture scene I mentioned above in which Patsey (Nyong'o) yells something to Solomon and it just had John Ridley's over the top style written all over it. According to Solomon Northup's biography this exchange did not happen so why did Ridley feel the need to add such a dramatic statement? What was the need to create sexual(?) tension between Patsey and Solomon's character? The same could be said about a speech Solomon gives in the film. That too was fiction and not realistic but I guess they did that to emphasize on their message on hope.
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