REVIEW: Characters lack development: ‘12 Years A Slave’ draws out brutality at a cost

Courtesy photo

Courtesy Photo


Often, when I sit down to watch a film, I expect to get something from it.

It may be inspiration, horror or even the validation of being right about whether it would be good or not.

12 Years A Slave was none of those things.

In fact, I couldn’t have expected anything further from the truth.

It received multiple Oscar nominations, was named Best Picture, and Hollywood is astir with positive feedback from the film.

That means the film has a lot to live up to, and after seeing it, I’m not sure it does.

Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejofor), a free man in the North, is taken into slavery while visiting the South with his business partners.

His life as a respected husband and father is torn to pieces before his eyes as he stands, waiting to be sold to the highest bidder.

A gifted musician, Solomon receives a violin from his first master, Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) and breathes a short sigh of relief at the idea of doing something familiar, something of dignity.

His hopes and small bit of good fortune are quickly destroyed by the hand of his master’s employee Tibeats (Paul Dano), after a rift is brought between the two. He soon finds himself in fear for his life.

Ford grows fond of Solomon and sends him to another plantation in hopes of sparing his life. The new plantation, led by the insane Epps (Michael Fassbender), only proves to be worse.

This second part of the film contains the more realistic scenes that nearly drove me mad. Every cringingly long and painful scene made the film more of a poignant reenactment.

Even then, I forgot it was a film as I was carried into the pain of a man in an unjust position, doing everything in his power to survive.

The film leaves you with many lingering questions.

Why was Solomon so strong in the face of these slave masters?

Did he believe he would see his family again, or was this a typical trait in an untypical man?

A lack of character development leaves you wondering what the intention of the characters really was.

It’s as if a veil is being draped in front of your eyes, a veil that makes each character blurry and their voices muted.

Each actor does his or her part and does it well, but the direction of the film and lack of time makes each scene appear hurried and neglected, with the exception of the more brutal scenes.

The potentially strong ending is hurried as well. The script falters, and the acting, too. Only the music and tears in Solomon’s eyes were able to give my heart a jolt.

In the end, it’s the story that makes the film shine, a true story of a man who fought for his life and had faith through what appeared to be an impossible situation.

That is what makes the film worthwhile.

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