Writer: Casey Chong
Overall: 3.0 Out of 5
Cast: 3.5 Out of 5
Plot: 3.0 Out of 5
Effects: 3.0 Out of 5
Cinematography: 3.0 Out of 5
Watch this if you liked: “Amistad”, “Beloved” and “Django Unchained”.
Already widely praised by critics when the movie was first released in the United States on October 18, "12 Years A Slave" has also received a number of accolades from various film festivals and even being positioned as one of Oscar frontrunners. With the movie finally scheduled for release on 26 December in the local cinemas here, this reviewer is rather curious to know what makes "12 Years A Slave" such a critical phenomenon in the first place. However, for all the (near) universal praises of this movie, "12 Years A Slave" isn't the kind of a cinematic masterpiece this reviewer had hoped for.
Based on the 1853 autobiography by Solomon Northup, "12 Years A Slave" begins with Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who is an educated free negro living with his wife and two children in New York. One day he is lured by a pair of professional illusionists Brown (Scoot McNairy) and Hamilton (Taran Killam) to travel with them to Washington, DC for a lucrative circus gig. But things turn ugly when Northup awakens to find himself chained to a floor after being drugged from the night drinking with the two illusionists, and subsequently being sold into slavery.
UK-born director Steve McQueen's past two efforts, "Hunger" (2008) and "Shame" (2011), were extraordinary, praiseworthy features. But in his third feature for "12 Years A Slave", he doesn't reach the same level of greatness that his two directing efforts did successfully before. Sure, there are worthwhile moments in this movie every now and then, including a long uninterrupted takes featuring Northup is seen struggling to stay alive with a noose dangling around his neck, which is particularly harrowing to watch for. But taking this as a whole, McQueen doesn't push hard enough to depict the horror of slavery during the particular era - something that Quentin Tarantino does the same subject better in "Django Unchained".
Cast-wise, "12 Years A Slave" is thankfully a triumph for acting showcase. Chiwetel Ejiofor brings a tour de force performance as the unfortunate Solomon Northup, who is particularly excellent the way he uses his expressive eyes to do the acting. Newcomer Lupita Nyong'o delivers a heartbreaking performance as one of the slaves, Patsey - particularly in a scene where she pleas her slave owner, Mr. Epps (Michael Fassbender) to be allowed to keep a bar of soap so she can clean herself but only ends up getting herself tortured. Speaking of Michael Fassbender, he is perfectly typecast as a spiteful and wretched Mr. Epps. The rest of the supporting actors - including Benedict Cumberbatch as the good-hearted slave owner Ford; Paul Giamatti as the heartless slave trader Freeman; Paul Dano as the sadistic taskmaster John Tibeats; and Brad Pitt as the righteous Canadian laborer - are equally top-drawer.
While "12 Years A Slave" is more of an overrated effort, it remains a good movie nonetheless. On the side note, there's a nagging problem about Hans Zimmer's music score in this movie. Although it sounds captivating, this reviewer can't help it but wondered whether his score is a bit too identical to Christopher Nolan's "Inception".
Cinema Online, 23 December 2013