This week on Oscar Watch: “12 Years a Slave.”
It’s nice that we’ve had a fairly steady stream of quality films coming out these past few weeks. It’s much less hectic than when they all get dumped out in late December.
The latest sure-fire awards contender is the powerful “12 Years a Slave,” based on the 1853 autobiography of Solomon Northup.
Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) was a free black man living in New York with his wife and two children. A violinist by trade, Northup is invited to perform in Washington D.C. by a pair of genial musicians. He falls ill after a night of food and drink and wakes up the next day in a dark cell in chains.
The next thing you know Northup is on a boat headed south where he has been sold into slavery. His first owner is the kindly William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch). A run-in with the violent man (Paul Dano) who oversees the plantation forces Ford to sell Northup to keep him from being lynched.
Northup winds up at a cotton plantation owned by the not-at-all-kindly Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). Here he meets Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o), a young woman without peer in the skill of cotton picking. Despite her usefulness she is subject to frequent abuse by Epps and his wife (Sarah Paulson).
Northup words hard and tries to keep a low profile, all the while looking for a way out. His best hope comes in the form of an outspoken Canadian carpenter (Brad Pitt) who has come to do work on the plantation.
Directed by Steve McQueen, “12 Years a Slave” is a brutal, uncompromising look at slavery in America. If you can’t handle vivid depictions of whippings and hangings this is not a film for you.
But beyond the violence is a very compelling and emotional personal story. The film is filled with fine performances with standout work by Ejiofor and Nyong’o . Paul Giamatti plays a brief but memorable role as a slave merchant. The film also has rich cinematography and production values.
“12 Years a Slave” is likely to turn up on many “best of” lists at the end of next month. It deserves the accolades.