THE REEL: 12 Years a Slave Reviewed

Ben Conniff

What would you do if everything you ever knew was taken away in a single moment, like a rug suddenly yanked from beneath your feet?

Powerful and emotionally gripping, “12 Years a Slave” is one of this year’s best films. The incredible true story of Solomon Northup gets due presentation from Steve McQueen’s careful, reverent direction. The way he lingers on certain shots lends the film a palpable gravity. The production design makes the film feel as if it were actually filmed on location in the mid-19th century. Together with John Ridley’s colloquial script, “12 Years a Slave” boasts a tremendous sense of historical accuracy.

Chiwetel Ejiofor gives the performance of his career as Northup and leads a stellar ensemble cast including Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, and Sarah Paulson. Look for him at the front of the Best Actor pack this coming Oscar season.

As Master Epps, the film’s most notable antagonist, Fassbender slithers around his plantation like a snake. Epps is easy to loathe as a character but Fassbender is perfect for the role.

My favorite scene features “Argo”’s Scoot McNairy and “SNL”’s Taran Killam doing their best Barnum and Bailey impersonations as the entertainers Brown and Hamilton respectively. Their lighthearted, easygoing demeanors lend flair to a conversation they have early on with Solomon. This serves as a jovial juxtaposition against the heavy-hearted content that follows.

Don’t miss this sure-fire Oscar contender that’s sure to garner nods in the acting, directing, screenwriting, production design, and best picture categories.