12 Years A Slave – ***1/2

Posted: March 19, 2014 in 2013, Drama, Historical, Horror, USA, XXX1/2

12 Years A Slave is a fascinating movie about one of the darkest pages of American history. It recounts the story of a free black man from New York State who gets kidnapped and sold as a slave to a plantation owner in Georgia anno 1845. He perseveres in physical torture and emotional horror to finally reunite with this wife and children after twelve years.

The title already tells you how it’s going to end. He will survive! And it’s going to focus on slavery. Next up are 120 minutes of physical torture and emotional horror with a very simple story line.

So is it worth watching? Of course! Just don’t expect a Django Unchained or Schindler’s List. Alexander McQueen makes arthouse movies, no blockbusters.

The storyline is predictable and doesn’t tell anything new about slavery. Unless you’ve never learned about it and never cared to watch Roots. But its simplicity allows the director to focus on visual storytelling. There’s no rushed editing, so you get plenty of time to think about what you’re looking at. The best example is the scene where the main character gets hanged. You know he will survive (he’s the one that wrote the book), but it’s still terrifying as the real story is told in the background. That scene alone makes this movie a must.

There are plenty more of these moments, of which only the director is responsible. The story is told by what is shown and not shown, by what is said and not said. It’s quite refreshing. Steve McQueen should have won the Academy Award (especially since Alfonso Cuáron’s visually stunning Gravity only works in a 3D cinema theatre). And he’s not the only one who got snubbed. The performances by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender are also more impressive than those of McConaughey and Leto. But they got the most important one: best picture of the year.

However, it’s still 120 minutes of physical torture and emotional horror and it’s tough. As a European you wonder how Americans really feel when they watch this. I think it’s time to make a movie about Leopold II’s Congo. Let’s call Steve McQueen to do it.



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