12 Years a Slave

A quiet testament to inhuman brutality

The unending, inhuman brutality of America's past is materialized in the colossal 12 Years a Slave. Adapted from his 1853 autobiography, the film follows free man Solomon Northup as he's kidnapped from his New York home and sold into slavery for more than a decade. Working on Louisiana plantations, Northup becomes chattel to rich masters both ambivalently (Benedict Cumberbatch) and monstrously (Michael Fassbender) evil. An under-used actor, Chiwetel Ejiofor stuns in this seismic role. Northup's character is almost entirely internal, and Ejiofor gracefully registers rage and intelligence on a face that can show neither in the presence of his owners. British director Steve McQueen's horror story makes triumphant use of timing. Quiet scenes of unparalleled anguish play out over several agonizing minutes, testing characters' and viewers' endurance. Not the Derridean deconstruction of Django Unchained, nor the historical wet fart of Spielberg's Lincoln, 12 Years a Slave is a quiet testament, supremely crafted, with all the weight of the ocean.

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