Freitag, 10. Januar 2014

12 Years a Slave

British director Steve McQueen made his best film to date with the exquisite, gut-wrenching, immensely powerful drama "12 Years a Slave". Following the decade-long journey through hell by a man unwittingly sold into slavery, John Ridley's screenplay neither panders nor exploits, but recreates in the most faithful, candid manner that unthinkable alternate universe not 200 years from today. The words pouring from his characters, whether imploring or abusing, are not just beautifully succinct, they come from such an honest place and carry such simple, profound conviction they hit you right in the heart before you can even process the horror contained in them. McQueen is a master storyteller, framing and sequencing the scenes in a way that's often breathtaking in its grace and brutality, its bloody, hopeless poetry.  

Technically the movie is a feat top to bottom. Sean Bobbit's cinematography uses candlelight, bonfire or the setting sun to splash the most stunning hues of the Southern sky across the screen. How he lets the black actors sink in the shadows and observes their darkened shapes with his confident lens is not just visually arresting but metaphorically expressive. Joe Walker's editing is precise and assured and Hans Zimmer's electronically enhanced score is risky but strikingly inventive.

Ultimately, though, it's a collection of superior performances that pulls one into the story that has been told in different forms for many times. Chiwetel Ejiofor brings kindness, sophistication and perseverance to the title role, communicating the distress of someone caught between two worlds in detail and with so much dignity. Michael Fassbender and Sarah Paulson as the slave owner couple are brilliant exactly because they don't play the evil incarnate with leers and sneers but chill you instead with that transcendent calm, holding down any challenging gaze with simple-minded, unwavering contempt and loathing. Last but not least, the warmth, breath and soul of the movie come from Lupita Nyong'o, who is a revelation of physical elegance and emotional accessibility. When she begs for mercy, first from a compatriot then from a tyrant, the pain and suffering of an entire people is so present on her nakedly open face it's as overwhelming and devastating as anything I've seen.          

Just as everyone needs to see "La vie d'Adèle" to witness love, they also need to see this movie to witness hate. Pure and blind. Watching this movie is to be reminded that without reason and empathy, human beings are all but carnivorous creatures or pounds of trembling flesh.

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