Adapted form an 1853 memoir by Solomon Northup, 12 Years A Slave traces the story of a free African American New Yorker who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. With a rich and deep lead performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor and consistently thoughtful and well chosen direction by Steve McQueen, this film effortlessly recreates a believable, if deeply disturbing picture of pre-Civil War USA.
One pleasant surprise was the outstanding performance by Lupita Nyong’o, as Patsey, the long suffering love interest of the despotic plantation owner Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). It’s an engaging performance that carries a lot of the emotional tension through the heart of the film.
Sadly, 12 Years A Slave falls away in the final act and by the time Brad Pitt’s enlightened, long haired carpenter Samuel Bass appears as a kind of enlightened Jesus figure, challenging Epps racist worldview, the film feels like it has run out of steam. However, the gravitas of the performances and artfulness of the direction still manage to make this one of the most engaging and moving cinematic experiences of recent years.