Saturday, 4 January 2014
REVIEW-12 YEARS A SLAVE
A Long Road To Freedom.
134 Minutes. Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Lupita Nyong'o, Sarah Paulson & Brad Pitt. Director: Steve McQueen.
Slavery, one of the worst and most vile, unjust abominations to man. A product of racism, one of the most callous and cruel, discriminatory and prejudice things that has caused worldwide suffering and pain. Born from hatred, in its nature the worst thing in this world. A thing that can only be cured by love if it is pure in the heart and soul. When we remember once again in loving memory of the teachings of Nelson Mandela in this weeks 'Long Road To Freedom' film that is portrayed perfectly by Idris Elba, we need to look to another successful British actor who has broken America. A man who has also now broken the boundaries of a time that can still be ignorant to exactly the ignorance of the past that brought the scars on human history that may heal but can never be removed. In a time where the movie world is replacing the Hollywood shine with the rough truth its time for another history lesson. Sure this time last year Quentin Tarantino's 'Django Unchained' was a fun, Western ride that looked at slavery through the eyes of Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio and a hell of a lot of violence, but there was method behind that madness too. Just like his and Christophe Waltz's 'Inglorious Basterds' look at Hitler and World War II. Still, in this day and age that looks at social media more than social commentary we need more films that truly document what happened in terrible times for better or worse, so we can learn and move on from the worse for better. It's not preachy...it's only right. Sure like Spielberg's historical Holocaust drama 'Schindler's List' you can't really call this enjoyable, but you can't really say anything less or take anything away from it's pure power and accuracy. As one of the stars says in this film "it's an amazing story...and I don't mean that in a good way". With only his third film you can put this work of Steve McQueen in the classic library of films alongside his acting namesakes career. The Oscars are waiting too, because in 12 months you'd be hard pressed to find anything better, more brutal or brilliant than '12 Years A Slave'. Quite simply one of the most powerful films of all-time.
Can we give a hand for Chiwetel Ejiofor please? Who without doubt will lead this Academy class of talent and should really be guaranteed his 'Best Actor' moment. From 'Four Brothers' to 'Inside Man' and 'American Gangster' he made his mark in the Hollywood movie-world of the new millennium alongside greats like Denzel and seemingly every other film that was released, but now today like Elba's Mandela this is this actors lasting legend and legacy. Playing Solomon Northup and based on the book of a free man and beautiful violin player who was wrongly kidnapped and sold into slavery you couldn't ask for a more real and raw performance that shows both respect to the man he played, but enough diligent responsibility to present the whole truth to a desensitized audience that somewhat craves violence in a throwaway, entertainment video-game way but will turn away from the real injustices that have happened to people over the course of history. Some scenes are so harrowing they'll haunt conscious minds for as many decades as those who have ignored have forgotten. Ejiofor makes us sit up and take notice to this. There's little we can say for how great this speaks for itself. Still like the man he's portraying, as Ejiofor shows strength, humility and survival in the face of oppression it truly and literally speaks volumes for his character. Whenever he does break down emotionally, whether with tears or rage its something that's more than just acting. It's the passion of a man whose living for those who survived for him. It's a man speaking out to the mainstream about an dark issue that needs to be brought to the light. Mr. Northup would be proud of how Chiwetel has honored him. If any actor could show just how bad things where but in a positive spirit over suffering way, than wait until you see the other side of this on the hands of the abuser. After 'Hunger' and 'Shame', Michael Fassbender collaborates again with McQueen on his third movie with a truly sinister and strong performance of the most shame. You wouldn't think this evil 'First Class', 'X-Men' and 'Basterd' cameo guy could be so cruel and callous. Still with dangerous methods this is why this is one of his best performances of his career. You would never think you could hate the hardest working actor that everyone loves not called Cumberbatch.
Speaking of Benedict...yes he's in this movie too. If outdoing his 'Star Trek-Into Darkness' Khan best villain of the year himself with a bleeding fire breathing dragon for 'The Hobbit-The Desolation Of Smaug', to go along with him and Bilbo 'Martin Freeman/Dr. Watson' Baggins teaming up for the new 'Sherlock' series wasn't enough then he's only winning over even more fans by actually playing a nice slave-owner. OK such a thing clearly doesn't exist, but bound by morals and conflict of what is right Benedict is brilliant here as always. In his busiest 'Fifth Estate' year his part here is small like his trip to 'August: Osage County' but that doesn't make it any less greater. In fact all the supporting parts here are small and of a certain time much like all the presidents men, singer and television hosts behind Forest Whitaker's service as 'The Butler'. Just like this historical film of a time, race and the overcoming of prejudice, those who contribute no matter the cost or cameo do so rightly and with their own dynamic distinction that furthers development. Here we have Paul Dano whose 'Ruby Sparks', 'Looper' geek calling card was given some weirder, dark and disturbing turns in the arresting 'Prisoners', another one of 2013's best and brutal. Now here however he's just weird and horrible in the perfect performance kind of way. The kid just has the goods to go with that look that makes him truly something else in the acting ranks. One differently great Paul deserves another and inbetween small roles of significance on 'Saving Mr. Banks' and heading back the way Mary Poppins came to England's 'Downtown Abbey', Mr. Giamatti is here too. Too bad he's only here for one scene to sell a bunch of slaves in such a despicable and horrible way. Yet again though between all the physical and mental intimidation between playing it up like a sickly slick salesman for the whites...it's just the sign of a great actor. Like the atrocities of 'Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip' (that should have never been cancelled by the way that's another atrocity) star Sarah Paulson who acts revolting. You want the realest acting though to match even the leading man? Then look no further then Lupita Nyong'o whose about to turn as many critical heads towards her with every turn away scene of harrowing brutality she portrays in all its strength over suffering necessity. The education that McQueen and Ejiofor teach is brought to a whole new class by Nyong'o.
With all this talent and all this film time you could almost forget that Brad Pitt was in this despite those controversial big billboard posters. Still this crucial cameo has more to it then "hey look we got Hollywood's biggest star", or Pitt's Plan B production scoring their next big hit after the undead awakening of the amazing 'World War Z'. From what he says to what he does Brad's character is the perfect cast. Even with a spare swing this is the industries leading man, but yet one of actings most underrated, most inspiring hit since 'Moneyball'. A million miles from the slots of 'Oceans', growing his hair and beard like he can and has done for so many American folklore tales, here is one account of history that his weary look and weathered work adds to wonderfully. Even 'The Wire's' Michael K. Williams pops up for a moment of significance and clarity that shows us more than just how good Steve McQueen's list of Lee Daniels like contacts is. All of this classically crafted casting to go along with just the strongest yet sincere story is backed up by the soaring score of 'Dark Knight'/Nolan and every other films soundtrack composer Hans Zimmer. Here he experiments with even more harsh violin for some harrowing and haunting sounds to match the horror of some of this films most heinous documented moments of abhorrent abuse. This all adds to telling the story the right way with nothing left behind or ignored, but everything presented with grounding but not gratuitous effects. In one strung up scene a black man is left hanging for hours on end as whites pass by minding their own business, literally without a care in the world. Presented to us over the course of several minutes, its another drawn out scene pictured to us to show just how some back then and some today will ignore injustice even if its slumping right there in front of them. It's a literal look but also a moving metaphor of changing times that still need some more compassion. Even if it is much better today and some of it is wrongfully in jest or even worse acceptance, racism is still alive today and you don't have to go too far to see it in its worst forms. To think as well that it all came from things like this. Now what does that tell you? Something that Solomon's story will keep telling through the decades and ages thanks to his book and now McQueen and his Ejiofor led team until everyone understands. From slavery to the teachings of the words of Nelson Mandela these are what these films are about. The long walk to freedom isn't over yet...but its down the road. TIM DAVID HARVEY.