Wednesday, April 9, 2014

12 Years a Slave DVD review; an unforgettable story

It's difficult to think about what slaves went through in the United States, in the early part of our country's history.  So many people, treated so terribly, because of the color of their skin.  While racism unfortunately still exists, we are in a time in history where we HOPE, that nothing like slavery could ever happen again in this country.  Sadly, different forms of slavery occur in other parts of the world til this day.  Imagine one of those slaves becoming free.  Living a happy, fulfilling life.  Only to have it ripped away and be forced to return to a life of slavery, all in the blink of an eye.  12 Years a Slave tells that exact story, in an unforgettable way.  Let's go.

What I liked about the film:
What. A. Story.
This is a sad, yet fascinating story about a man who never lost hope, in unimaginable circumstances.  Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Solomon Northup in his Oscar nominated performance.  Northup was a free black man, with a family.  After a series of events, he finds himself a slave again.  How on Earth could this happen?  The man has legal documents that prove he's free.  But in a time in our country where there were no phones, no internet, no texting; how does Northup prove he is free?  How does Northup stay focused on returning to his family?  That is a story you're going to have to experience on your own; there are no words I can write that will do it justice.  Congratulations to John Ridley for Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay... it was beautiful.

The Cast
I mentioned Ejiofor earlier; and he does a magnificent job playing Northup.  He is a smart man, literate and fully capable of living of a successful and fulfilling life; only to be stripped down to nothing by the hands of a tyrant plantation owner.  Ejiofor plays Northup with a sense of confusion, a constant look of 'how did this happen to me?'; and it couldn't be more appropriate for what the character is going through.  I was already a fan of Ejiofor before this film, but now he is a must-watch actor in my book.

Lupita Nyong'o plays a slave named Patsey, and just crushes the role.  Patsey is the object of the plantation owner's affection.  She is living the worst life imaginable; but Nyong'o plays the character with just a glimmer of hope.  She portrays this beaten woman with a sense of innocence.  Her eyes alone scream to the audience, 'why me?  What did I do to deserve this?'.  Those eyes are enough to have you sobbing, when you see what this character goes through.  Congratulations to Nyong'o on her Best Supporting Actress Oscar this year; she so obviously deserved it.

There are several primary white characters in the film.  Paul Giamatti, while only briefly in the film, steals the few scenes he's in.  He plays a man trafficking slaves.  Giamatti's character 'sells' (it pains me to even type that), he sells Northup to the Benedict Cumberbatch character.  I loved Cumberbatch in this film.  While he is a slave owner, he is portrayed as a compassionate man, who sympathizes with his slaves.  Paul Dano plays a plantation worker, who works for Cumberbatch's character.  Dano is so damn good at being bad.  You want to reach through the screen and wring the character's neck for the things he says and does.  And that is a true testament to Dano and his incredible talent as an actor.

Then, the villain of all villains; a man who doesn't see slaves as human beings, but as 'beasts' as he puts it. Michael Fassbender's character is one of the most evil characters I've ever seen in a film.  He is a plantation owner who 'buys' Northup from Cumberbatch.  And he's not evil because of what you might think.  Yes, he physically abuses his slaves; punishing them for not picking enough cotton in 110 degree heat.  But what's worse, is he emotionally abuses them until they are left soulless.  Taking away ones body is one thing, but stripping them of their dignity, their pride, their own thoughts, that is something else entirely.  Fassbender is so good, he made me uneasy watching him on screen.  While he did not win, he most certainly deserved his Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.  Bravo Fassbender.

The Director
A director makes hundreds, if not thousands of decisions during the filmmaking process.  And director Steve McQueen made a lot of good ones in this film.  From his choice in casting, to location, to costume, to cinematography, to score, to editing; it all clicked.  I hadn't seen this film when the Oscars aired a few weeks ago, and I didn't understand how it could lose out on so many awards, but ultimately take home the Best Picture award.  Now I know why.  The stars aligned and the movie Gods wanted this story to be told, and in the right way.  Congrats to McQueen on winning a Producing Oscar, and hopefully we will see many more films from him in the future.

What I didn't like about the film:
What is Northup Thinking
Literally.  What is Northup thinking during his time as a slave.  We know he's motivated to get back to his family; but does he wonder if his wife remarried?  Does he wonder if his kids will remember him if he ever makes it back to them?  Does he plot murder attempts on the men who have abused him for so long?  None of Northup's psyche is explored during his time as a slave.  And I wanted into this man's head.  Is he angry?  Does a piece of him, in some sort of brainwashed way, accept his new life as a slave?  I don't know if it's necessarily a dislike so much as a wanting for more.

The Verdict:
Tough to Watch, Important to Remember
12 Years a Slave was a difficult movie to get through.  In 2014, in beautiful Southern California, there aren't many signs of the days when slavery was legal.  We, as a people, need reminders as to what these men and women went through, so we're absolutely sure we don't let it happen again.  And I know there are a fair share of cynical people out there ready to jump down my throat and say that slavery is still happening, even here in the U.S.  And I get that, but knowledge is power; and the more people learn about this ugly time in our history, the less likely we are to repeat it.  This movie will stick with me for a long, long time.

The DVD:
For a movie that is based on such an incredible true story, I was just a little disappointed in the special features of this Blu-Ray.  There is however, a featurette that's just over 40 minutes long, chronicling the making of the film.  It has some very interesting interviews that were enjoyable.  There is also a short featurette about the filmmaking team, as well as a behind the scenes look at the making of Hans Zimmer's stunning, yet simple score.  Overall, the blu-ray was just ok.  Go rent or buy this movie and be prepared to experience an unforgettable story.

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