12 Years A Slave – Review

12 years a slave poster

Before I saw 12 Years a Slave, I did not know that it was based on a true story, and I’m suspecting I’m not alone. Because of this, this movie is doing the American public a service, bringing to light once more a terrible story that needs to be told.

Chietwel Ejiofor is simply amazing in 12 Years a Slave. He brings gravitas to every scene. His vocal inflection in every line of dialog carries so much meaning. He is my pick for the Best Actor Oscar.

12 Years a Slave is a great movie, though it can be very hard to watch at points. I physically winced during Eliza’s whipping. At the same time, it was such a great scene. Epps can’t bring himself to whip Eliza, so he forces Solomon to do it. It turns Epps into a weakling and a monster all in the same scene. Michael Fassbender should win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar on the strength of this scene alone.

My favorite scene in the entire movie is when Solomon has to talk his way out of being killed by Epps in the middle of the night. Solomon is ratted out on a plan to escape to freedom, but instead of fighting or fleeing, he uses his wits to stay alive. He even turns the table on his accuser, causing Epps to mistrust that man. Part of the strength of the scene came from the proximity of the actors. Fassbender literally has his arm around Ejiofor for the length of the scene. Solomon is a turn of the knife away from being in the grave the entire time he’s pleading his case.

12-years-a-slave fassbender

I think part of what makes 12 Years a Slave works so well is that it humanizes even the vilest of villains. By humanize, I don’t mean it excuses their behavior. But the movie does an excellent job of showing the origins of their motivation. Paul Dano’s Tibeats is an out and out racist, there’s no denying that, but the movie shows him also operating out of jealously. When he turns his malicious attention to Solomon, it’s because Solomon managed to impress Tibeats’s boss more than Tibeats could.


Between the one-two punch of There Will Be Blood and 12 Years a Slave, Paul Dano might be the most effective movie villain out there. I’m fairly certain that going forward, my skin will crawl the minute he appears on screen. It’s weird that he played such a quiet character in Little Miss Sunshine, because when I think of him, all I can picture is him howling in There Will be Blood or 12 Years a Slave.

With the exception of Brad Pitt’s character and the doctor that comes to rescue Solomon, every white person in this movie is an asshole. Some are better than others, but the best of them, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Ford, while easily the most genial slave owner in the movie, turns out to be a coward, and let’s not forget, still a slave owner.

When I walked into 12 Years A Slave, I worried that the movie would be another Hotel Rwanda, a great movie but one I’d never want to watch again. However, after watching 12 Years A Slave, I’d gladly watch it again, because it is a masterpiece. I keep going back and forth on which I think should win the Oscar, 12 Years A Slave or Gravity. Today it’s 12 Years a Slave.