In 2014 the Oscar for best picture went to 12 Years a Slave, which I foolishly decided not to see in order to avoid a sad movie. Finally and luckily I changed my mind and I was impressed by the beauty of this film. I believe that the merit goes to the director, Steve McQueen, who managed to make a powerful film on a complex issue such as slavery in the United States in the XIX century without going for the “I’ll make you cry” target. This was to be expected since his first feature film is Hunger (2008), about the hunger strike by Bobby Sands, an Irish independentist prisoner of the British in the 70-80s! In short, McQueen isn’t afraid to deal with strong issues and I think that he also has the right sensitivity to do it.
12 Years a Slave tells the true story of Solomon Northup, a free African American in New York who is kidnapped and sold as a slave in the South, near Washington. We see his 12 years as a slave, beginning with the abduction and the sale and passing through the various masters who use him as a workforce in their immense properties. We know the story because after this interminable period he manages to free himself, to return to his family, and to write his memoirs (published in 1853).
Steve McQueen shows us the tremendous conditions in which the slaves were forced to live in the South of the United States. We see all sorts of characters played by the incredible series of actors of the cast (Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch…). Basically, they are all bad people because even the “good” ones are unable to see the injustice of using slaves… and even if it was normal in some states, it wasn’t so in each of them, and it certainly wasn’t so for example in places like Europe since the Middle Ages: in short, there was no excuse for such a practice.
And what about the movie? It’s violent and dramatic when needed, the plot flows marvelously thanks to an exceptional montage with a great use of flashback and flashforward. The actors are all very good (although some Southern accents sound a bit forced) and all the most memorable scenes are really intense. The photography is as spectacular as the soundtrack, and the director uses well the camera (for example, there are some impressive long shots).
It’s not a film for a quiet evening, but the right film if you want to think a little about human nature, and in particular about the origins of the currently most powerful nation on the planet: the same violent origins that Tarantino was not ashamed to show us in his Django unchained (2012) and The Hateful Eight (2015), as did Jim Jarmusch in Dead Man (1995), for example. Ciao!