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The Daily Tar Heel

Movie Review: 12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave

With its unflinching brutality and heartbreaking portrayal of true events, “12 Years a Slave” isn’t just one of the best films of the year. It’s one of the most powerful films ever made.

It tells the story of Solomon Northup an educated, free man living in New York, who is kidnapped and sold into slavery. He’s sent from plantation to plantation, where he experiences unspeakable horrors.

The first owner is Ford, who Benedict Cumberbatch plays with a sort of nuanced kindness. Ford respects Northup and goes out of his way to help him.

In another time, he might have been a good man, but as it stands, he’s too cowardly to challenge things. It’s a shame we don’t see more of his character, because there’s a lot to him.

But Northup is quickly whisked away to another man, the cruel and sadistic Edwin Epps. Michael Fassbender steals the show for a while as Epps, but soon his quivering rage threatens to become a stereotype.

Luckily, Sarah Paulson, who plays Epps’ wife, represents a whole new face of evil, and she keeps things fresh.

The strongest part of Epps’ story is easily Lupita Nyong’o, who plays Patsey, a slave Epps picks as his favorite. Nyong’o’s performance is heartbreaking and raw.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about “12 Years a Slave” is the emergence of Chiwetel Ejiofor as a leading man. He’s flawless as Northup, and he’s the reason the film hits as hard as it does.

Ejiofor could have gone for overly dramatic, but instead he chose restraint.

Through subtle expressions, he conveyed the intelligence Northup was forced to hide, the desperation he felt and his profoundly inspiring will to live.

At the very least, Ejiofor will pick up an Oscar nomination for his work. He’ll probably win.

Hans Zimmer punctuates most scenes with dramatic, heavy music, but the score sometimes feels too strong. In a film like this, silence almost always does the trick.

That being said, there are few things to criticize about “12 Years a Slave.”

If the music feels too loud, it’s only because the actors are saying so much with their silence. If scenes feel like they linger too long, it’s because director Steve McQueen demands that viewers look.

The acting is impeccable, the story is both horrifying and inspiring and the filmmaking is top-notch. “12 Years a Slave” is a must-see.

Schyler Martin

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