McQueen is really smashing it with this one. I mean this man really, really knows how to tell a story. 12 Years a Slave, the story Of Solomon Northup is that of pain, anguish, heart-break, sadness and pity. In all honesty my list of adjectives could go on forever but I’ll stop for now. As I’m reviewing the film we need to keep in mind not to tell the story but assess production, style and over all greatness really. So on that note, let’s begin.
It would appear to me that McQueen’s style is not particularly unique or original, don’t get me wrong the man does a fucking fine job of making a film about slavery, it’s just I feel that McQueen is one of few directors nowadays that remembers the principles of cinema and cinematography. He shows off his knowledge of using light, non-diegetic sounds and simplicity to portray the sheer horrors of 1840’s southern state slavery. As a whole McQueen takes risks, which is fantastic as not many mainstream directors would put their nut-sack on the line like he does. I mean let’s look at what he decided to go with in this film shall we? His depiction of slavery, brutality, violence, rape (again the list could continue forever) and so on are horrific. So much so that the images on the screen stuck with me for a while……AMAZING! That is exactly what we, as the audience, need from films. He has not pussy-footed around the raw facts of the biographical true story. He say’s it how it is and I can not give him more respect for that. Credit must be given to the production companies that gave the end product a green light as it was a risk for them as well. They allowed McQueen to implement his auteur style which, in reality, could have back fired.
Like I said, McQueen creates horror and violence spectacularly. But his vast skill’s do not end at that. McQueen uses techniques like slow light dimming, wide shots of landscape to establish atmosphere. However for me, his best techniques are his extremely long scenes, up to 3 minutes at a time! How refreshing is that? The technique was almost entirely extinct from mainstream Hollywood films because the producers/directors do not want us, as the audience, to get bored. BULLSHIT! Never has this been more untrue. For a film like this, these extremely long shots are more than welcome as it gives the viewers time to have a breather or reflect on what has just happened. Sticking on the subject of long ‘reflecting’ shots, (and I promise I will end it at this) McQueen dedicates whole scenes to these shots. What I mean by this is that he will cut a scene, then the next scene will be of Solomon just staring into space, cut, and then change scene. What do these shots/scenes achieve. For me, it gives the audience a chance to think like Solomon. “Whats next for me”? “How could he do that”? “How am I gonna get home”? All of these questions were probably racing around Solomon’s head and through this style that McQueen has adopted we can also experience those questions (probably not as bad as ol’ Solomon but you get my drift).
The location of the film is most important as it continues the tribute to Solomon. The film was actually filmed in New Orleans, Louisiana and south of the Red River area. This is the area where Solomon was actually enslaved, contributing to the memory of not only Solomon but other slaves in the area. The film could have been shot in an easier, cheaper location, they decided against it. Respect. The Film used was 35mm, perfect for this type of film as it gives the audience a definite sense of period and quality. Sean Bobbitt, the films cinematographer and primary camera man was quoted saying when referring to the actual film choice and aspect ratio.
“Because of the story’s epic nature, widescreen clearly made the most sense. Widescreen means a big film, an epic tale – in this case an epic tale of human endurance.”
So true Sean, so true.
The performances in the film are simply breathtaking. Probably (and I know this is a biggie) the best acting overall by a collection of actors in a film that I’ve ever seen. It is no surprise Chiwetel Ejiofor has been nominated for Best Actor for this years Oscars as his performance was outstanding. The same can be said for the despicable Fassbender. Never have I ever hated such a character, a sign that he did a great job. For that matter (and I can’t be assed to list them all) every single actor in that film performed superbly and contributed to the films excellence. A+ on the acting front.
The whole process of slavery is reported on. From the poisoning to the freedom, nothing is left out of this true story. A truly inspiration story where one man, in the face of evil, defies the odds of repression and survives to tell the tale (that was supposed to sound cheesy).
There is one last thing for me to mention, and I’ll actually need your comments to clear this up. Also my mates are making me write this as we’re all thinking different things. For those who have seen the film, there is a scene where Solomon can not sleep and when turning around to get comfortable he is met by the stares of a lustful lady. Shortly after their eyes meet, she grabs his hands and uses it to get herself off. Anyway, we were debating, did Solomon and the young lady go all the way or was it just a finger bang? Please leave your comments at the bottom.