“12 Years a Slave” is undoubtedly the most somber movie of the year, and is considered to be the favorite for “Best Picture” at the Oscars. The broad appraisal the film has received is most likely attributed to the raw shock value of just about everything presented. The audience is spared nothing of the horrors that Solomon Northup faces as a well-educated free man captured by shady slavers from the south. His middle class status and education seek to add another terrible dimension to the practice of slavery, since just about any white man he comes in contact understands he was not born into the trade.
Great detail is given to the setting and cast to bring the time period to life. The slavers are truly wicked, and the slaves are truly tortured. Most of the film is conveyed by physical action and embittered personalities rather than heavily scripted dialogue. There is some intellectual talk on the morality and basic lawfulness of slavery, but its brief. For a historical biography based on a true story, this might be best. But it leaves little to take away from the story besides the grueling visuals. Of course that may very well be the point.
The cast is what makes the film. A drama of this nature demands the quality of performances that Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, and Michael Fassbender give. Relentless and tragic all around, but with no comedic relief and nothing substantive to take away from the tale other than the rawness, that itself should not be forgotten. Clearly this is a good film worthy of praise, but I don’t think “12 Years a Slave” has the proper elemental balance to warrant what I would call a fantastic film.