’12 Years a Slave’ Review: A Look at the Devastating Truth of Slavery

12 Years a Slave review

Image from Amazon

It has taken me two years, but I’ve finally managed to sit down and watch 12 Years a Slave. I have to admit it’s a movie I will only watch the once, and not because I didn’t enjoy the production. It is just a story that I don’t need to watch again (and I feel that about many other movies on similar subjects).

A Slow Burn With Some Uncomfortable Viewing

The movie starts quite slowly. Rather than instantly showing the tale of Solomon Northup being taken into slavery, it shows him already there; working on a sugar plantation. For the first bit of the movie, my husband and I wondered just how he ended up there. It is not explained instantly.

The slow burn doesn’t bother me. With something like this, knowing more about the back story and seeing how it all fits together is important. I enjoyed that this was all taken from Solomon’s point of view. It focused on his memories of how he got to where he was, and only on events that he saw or heard.

There was some uncomfortable viewing. As with any movie about slavery, there is rape and abuse featured, but there are some subtle elements that made me cringe or feel uncomfortable. I’m sure that’s the way the director wanted us to feel, considering the subject. It’s partly because of that that I won’t watch the movie again.

Gradually Watching the Change in Solomon

Something that was well done with the movie was seeing the gradual change in Solomon’s expressions. He started off with a panic but wanting to fight for his freedom. Slowly, he grows to realize that this is his life for now and he will need to find people sympathetic to his cause. He learns quickly that he cannot trust anyone, and that is featured towards the end when he speaks to Brad Pitt’s character.

The one thing that I thought was let down was how he didn’t seem to age. It was very difficult to tell how long he was with his masters, and it was only until right at the end that the viewer would see that he was in captivity for so long. His wife Anna had aged much more than he had.

12 Years a Slave Sarah Paulson

Image from YouTube clip above

This could have been done that way for numerous reasons. It may have been due to it coming from his point of view. Maybe he never really noticed just how long had passed, and didn’t feel like he had changed. It is possible that the work outdoors kept him looking much younger than his wife, although I wouldn’t have thought so considering he would have been in the Louisiana sun for hours on end. It was just something never really explained at the end of the movie.

Big Names, Small Roles

There were numerous big names in the movie, including Brad Pitt and Benedict Cumberbatch. I expected them to be in it much more, but they had relatively small roles. It didn’t really give the chance to show their acting abilities, but that wasn’t the point of the movie. I think I would have liked to have seen smaller known actors get some of these roles, just to see if they could do the movie justice. There are times that I think casting directors choose bigger names just to draw people in rather than letting the movie do itself justice.

That being said, using bigger names against a main character who is lesser known did really work, and he certainly showed his acting. While Chiwetel Ejiofor had been in other movies and TV shows before 12 Years a Slave, I’d not really seen him and it was wonderful to watch him against some of the bigger names.

Image from YouTube clip above

Image from YouTube clip above

I can understand why Ejiofor was nominated but didn’t win an Oscar for his acting. My opinion is that it is on a par with Leonardo DiCaprio’s acting in The Wolf of Wall Street, but Matthew McConoughay’s acting in Dallas Buyers Club was certainly better.

I Now Want to Read the Book

There are certain things that movies simply cannot portray, and that was the case with 12 Years a Slave. I now want to read the book to see if that goes into some of the things the movie left out.

I’m talking about things like the emotions and the thoughts at certain times. While the acting was good, it just didn’t quite show the fear and despair as Solomon is kidnapped and sold. His acting didn’t quite tell the fears and disappointment when he realizes people he trusted betrayed that trust. Little things like this only a book can really get across because much more description can be added.

I’d also want to see the other side of the story. What were his wife and children doing once they learned of Solomon’s disappearance? Did the townspeople fear the worse or actively try to find him? Did they believe he was dead rather than illegally sold off into the slave trade? Did they come across the men who had been involved in his kidnapping? There is so much to the story that has been left untold.

Overall, it is a movie I rate. It’s one that I would certainly recommend to watch once, but it’s not one that I would need to watch again. It goes with the movies like Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas that aren’t really watched for enjoyment but to learn more about the world and understand a devastating history.


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