Monkey Movie Review – 12 Years a Slave (2013)

‘After wallowing in the nostalgia of older movies, The Monkey took in something a bit more recent, a 2013 released called ’12 Years a Slave, winner of last years Academy Award for best picture.

[No spoilers]

Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as the main character, Solomon Northup. Other actors include Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sarah Paulson, Alfre Woodard and Brad Pitt.

As you’d expect, this movie is set right around the early 1840’s, and mainly takes place on a rural New Orleans cotton plantation. The plot involves a successful black violinist who lives up north, but is kidnapped and sold into slavery — and his experiences working on a slave plantation for twelve years. The movie’s script is based on a book written by Solomon Northup (the main character), and even provides a “what happened after the story concludes” just before the credits roll – because you really will want to know by the end of the movie.

Let me just say that I am shocked that Ejiofor did not win a best actor Academy Award. There are scenes where the camera simply sits on a tight shot of his face, as things around him are occurring, and all you can do is read his expressions – and just with that you know exactly what is going on. At one point he slowly joins in on a gospel song being sung at a peer’s funeral – and this is done so delicately, rising and increasing in intensity that you just get it – you get how he feels and what is going on in his mind. There’s the subtlety of his quiet words of respect both to his owner and his owners wife. There’s his lying directly and honestly about having written a letter for delivery. There’s his wary approach and slow trust of Brad Pitt’s character. His joy and his pain. Just a remarkable exhibition of acting at its best.

What this movie also does is make you realize how horrific plantations were, how blacks were treated lower than animals. No matter what you think you know this was like, in this movie you will be shocked, repulsed and angered. You start to realize why this pain continues to linger over 150 years later.

Cumberbach plays Benedict Ford, a reasonably benevolent slave owner who takes a liking to Solomon Northrup, who by this time has been fictitiously renamed to “Platt” by his previous sellers. Unfortunately, for various specific reasons, Ford ends up selling Platt to another plantation owner who is very different than Ford.

Fassbender plays Edwin Epps, the owner of the second plantation, who on one side professes and reads the Bible to his slaves and on the other is terribly ruthless. Fassbender as well plays a character that seethes with anger and hate toward his “property”. His acting is on par with Chiwetel’s, and once it’s just those two, together in a scene, light only by a small lantern held by Fassbender. Long pauses between words – very stressful. Remarkable.

And after a good part of the movie is spent with you hating Fassbender and wondering how bad it can get, Brad Pitt shows up as Bass and provides some relief.

The movie wraps up in a rewarding way and frankly it’s not easy to avoid tearing up. The movie is powerful, embarrassing, angering. I can’t imagine being in Platt’s situation and as much as I thought I knew the life of a slave, I realized that I did not.

So I’m sure it’s no surprise that The Monkeys gives this movie a full 5 banana rating. You must check it out.


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