The movie “12 Years a Slave” may be Steve McQueen’s most Hollywood friendly and least symbolic to date but he has certainly created yet another masterpiece, as heart wrenching as “Hunger” and as emotionally aching as “Shame”. Although 12 Years a Slave has the most eventful plot of his movies, McQueen still manages to showcase his special touches: long uncut steady shots, long dialogues with close ups on his actors faces, and mixing voiceovers, which all show his unique style and talent, cementing him as one of the best filmmakers alive.
McQueen shares all the successes of his career with actor Michael Fassbender. Whether as the heroic prisoner in Hunger, who starves himself to death (literally and figuratively) , or as Brandon the self-abusive sex addict in Shame, he carried the movies’ weight on his shoulders as much as McQueen did.
There is no difference about it this time around; Fassbender gives one of the most complex and multi-layered performances of his career without any help from the dialogue or the camera angles. He makes it feel like an easy task to be so invested in a character and to show such obsession without ever explaining it.
The biggest difference that 12 Years a Slave offers from McQueen’s body of work is that it is only Fassbender who carries its weight with him this time around. The whole cast is star-studded, with the likes of Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, and Paul Dano, all of whom make cameo appearances in just a scene or two, and all deliver memorable performances. They are all led by a genuine, powerful and precise performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor.
There are several scenes throughout the movie when the camera only takes a long shot of Ejiofor’s face; that is enough for us to be emotionally where his character of Solomon is and needs us to be, with only the look in his eyes explaining it all. And just when you think this movie has enough great performances and that it could not get any better, then comes Lupita Nyong’o, a first-time actress who outshines every other actor in the scene and demands your attention from the minute she appears on screen. She easily gives performance of the year as best supporting actress, proving herself to be a force to be reckoned with and an actress to watch out for in the future.
The writing might seem abstract at times but as the movie gets nearer to the end, the plot gets less eventful, which gives space for obvious character development and long, skilfully written dialogues to take place. The cinematography by Sean Bobbit (Shame, Hunger, and “The Place Beyond the Pines”) is beautiful, sensational, smart, and creative as usual, especially in the excruciatingly long uncut scene when Patsey is whipped.
I cannot even begin to imagine how many times it took them to perfect that scene and for the camera to catch every emotions and not miss a single thing. Hans Zimmer’s masterful score is a major player that made every moment in the film feel more emotional, have more meaning, and sometimes give you the idea of what’s going to happen in the next scene.
12 Years a Slave is a masterpiece of filmmaking. It is the most satisfying movie of the year for me and it is by far the most important and realistic movie about slavery produced in a very long time. I cannot wait to see what Steve McQueen does next.
Ahmed El Goarany is an Egyptian, movie blogger, aspiring filmmaker and a pharmacist