12 Years a Slave (2013)
The film world's new super-partnership of writer/director Steve McQueen and actor Michael Fassbender cannot seem to do anything wrong. This is the third time in double as many years they have come together (after Hunger and Shame), and for the third time the result is a crisp and explosive entertainment/art combo that stirs up your gut and entices your brain, this time through an unpolished rendition of slave life on a cotton farm in the American South in the mid 19th century. The story is told through Solomon Northup, a free-born African American from New York who was kidnapped by slave-traders and auctioned off into slavery, and who later wrote his memoirs about his experiences.
12 Years a Slave invokes much of the same emotion as Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained did a year ago, only without the insipid mockery. And although McQueen undoubtedly knows which strings to pull − almost too well − his attention to detail and the psychological complexity in both captors and captives justifies the at times unforgiving and overly lingering depiction of brutality and violence. McQueen obviously wants us to suffer the way his protagonist suffered, and as long as the result isn't that he rekindles anger or implies collective guilt in contemporary viewers, I'm fine with that. At any rate, his means are never ineffective or stale. Superb performances from Chiwetel Ejiofor in the title role, the aforementioned Fassbender as the sadistic slave owner, and Lupita Nyong'o as a young female slave overshadow a terribly self-conscious Brad Pitt in a somewhat anachronistic part.