Film Review: 12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave is a masterpiece. Steve McQueen’s film is powerful, brutal, and endlessly compelling.

In the 1940s, Solomon Northup is a free black musician from upstate New York. His comfortable lifestyle and loving family are ripped from him when Solomon is abducted and sold into slavery…

12 Years a Slave is a definitive film on the subject of slavery. Based on Solomon Northup’s memoir, McQueen’s film certainly packs a punch. The narrative works to pull viewers in. The use of flashbacks are effective in drawing a strong contrast in Solomon’s life pre and during slavery.

Steve McQueen’s direction is sublime. He does not shy away from presenting the brutality of Solomon’s story. The film is violent, in a realistic and disturbing manner. This is never gratuitous, but simply highlighting realities of the time.

Characters in 12 Years a Slave are depicted in a three-dimensional way. Screenwriter John Ridley carves a solid protagonist in Solomon, one that viewers will fully engage with. It is not difficult to feel immensely involved with the character, such is the injustice suffered. Other characters are equally well drawn; there are shades of grey among the good and bad.

12 Years a Slave is wonderfully shot by cinematographer Sean Bobbitt. The sunsets are key in marking the passing of time. Hans Zimmer’s score is gorgeous. There is a a striking juxtaposition between the beauty of the film and the horrific nature of what is depicted.

Chiwetel Ejiofor delivers a powerhouse performance that is sure to receive numerous accolades. Michael Fassbender is also excellent plantation owner Epps, while Lupita Nyong’o is superb as Patsey. There is a melancholia to her performance which is affecting.

The skill of McQueen, the cast and the crew is that they have taken a true story and made it cinematic without ever losing its potency. 12 Years a Slave is an unmissable film.

12 Years a Slave is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2013.

London Film Festival 2013 – Preview of Coming Attractions

Tickets for the BFI London Film Festival 2013 go on sale today. There is a veritable cinematic feast on offer, with 235 feature films and 134 short films from 57 different countries. Here are the films I am hoping to catch…

Gravity

Gravity looks terrifying. Children of Men director Alfonso Cuarón’s latest film serves up a horrifying but intriguing proposition. Sandra Bullock stars as a medical engineer on her first mission in space.

La Belle et la Bête

Jean Cocteau’s 1946 classic La Belle et la Bête has been digitally restored to 4K to mark the 50th anniversary of the director’s death. It is a rare chance to see Cocteau’s version of Beauty and the Beast on the big screen.

12 Years a Slave

Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave has been getting rave reviews at Venice, so expectations are high. Chiwetel Ejiofor is an accomplished violinist living as a free man in New York who is conned into joining a travelling show then brutally abducted and sold as a slave. With Oscar buzz, this is one to see.

Talking Dog for Sale, 10 Euros

I am sold on the title alone. Talking Dog for Sale, 10 Euros is a short by Louis Martin-Soucy. It is being screened at the London Film Festival 2013 as part of The Best Medicine series of comedic short films. It is only eight minutes long, but I am hoping that is eight minutes of talking dog action.

The BFI London Festival 2013 runs from 9th – 20th October. More information is available here.

Film Review: Salt

Angelina Jolie dons a series of unconvincing wigs in this unconvincing action thriller. Salt is one of those films that should be good, but ultimately fails to live up to expectations.

Evelyn Salt, a CIA agent, is accused by a defector of being a Russian spy who intends to assassinate the president of Russia in New York. Salt goes on the run after finding her husband missing, with her colleagues in close pursuit…

Salt begins similarly to Minority Report; with an insider being accused of a crime they have yet to commit. With Tom Cruise originally slated to take the title role, the similarities could have continued. Instead, with Jolie at the helm, the film takes a series of twists, none of which are particularly convincing. Furthermore, the ending is rather unsatisfying and comes across as a tad presumptuous.

Phillip Noyce’s film attempts to keep the audience guessing with its twists and revelations (any detail on this would be too much of a spoiler). However, with every twist the film becomes more incredulous. Salt falls into the gap between realist thriller and popcorn action flick. On the hand the film takes itself too seriously to be enjoyed solely for its action angle, and on the other it aims at a degree of realism that depreciates with the film’s descent into disbelief.

Angelina Jolie does a fair job as protagonist Salt, although her artificial hair situation is somewhat distracting. Liev Schreiber is believable as Salt’s boss Ted Winter, although it is the type of role he has been cast in a number of times before. Chiwetel Ejiofor meanwhile is underused as Peabody, the most convincing character in the film.

The action sequences are well crafted, and add some much-needed excitement to proceedings. Even these, however, are marred by implausibility. Salt, for example, jumps from a bridge onto a metal container of a truck, yet is so little injured by this that she is able to make similar jumps moments later. Elsewhere, top CIA and security service agents are portrayed as wholly incompetent, despite the importance of their roles.

If you are looking films in a similar vein, Bourne Identity, Minority Report or The Manchurian Candidate are all superior choices to Salt.