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Watch Carrie, 12 Years a Slave

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10/17/2013 6:16:29 AM
Posted: 4 years ago
Grade school history lessons helped us to understand the era of American slavery and sympathize with its victims. 12 Years a Slave isn't as casual. The latest from Shame filmmaker Steve McQueen forcefully seizes our attention demanding we witness our nation's fully-realized Hell. It's gut-wrenching from start to finish and while there are emotional epiphanies along the way the script by John Ridley returns again and again to the physical cruelty. It's an ultimately cold experience but one that must be seen.

Chiwetel Ejiofor gives the performance of his career as Solomon Northup a free black man who was kidnapped in 1841 and sold into slavery. While his wife was away with the kids on a job opportunity Solomon is courted by two circus men in need of a musician. He travels to Washington D.C. and what starts as a night of heavy drinking with potential employers ends with shackles around his hands and feet. His education his money his free status are all out the window. Without any proof Solomon is just another piece of property to be sold battered and worked to death.

We know from the title card how long Solomon will serve his sentence but how each step of his journey complicates his mental state how long he dwells in each location with each master is never clear. Ejiofor makes up for this fact with a stunning portrayal of a crippled observer. He's always watching wondering how to twist a situation into one that could lead him home.From men aboard a slave ship he knows to temper his intelligence and education " being too smart could lead to death though acting too subservient could act as heavier chains than any of his "masters" would provide. It's a balance Solomon spends more than a decade mulling over and while the script is cloudy in its presentation Ejiofor's contemplative ferocity provides a profound understanding of the conflict.

McQueen pairs Ejiofor with equally tremendous supporting talent. In the early days of Solomon's slavery stint he's bought by William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) a Baptist preacher running a plantation who takes an interest in his purchase's intellect. There's an innocence to Cumberbatch's work that we didn't see a trace of in Star Trek into Darkness; he's compassionate towards Solomon treating him with unexpected respect. This rubs foreman John Tibeats (Paul Dano) ardent in his belief that blacks are inferior the wrong way.