Director Steve McQueen has only made two feature films, but he’s already marked himself as a filmmaker of high regard. His films, Hunger and Shame, are both powerful dramas about people in serious distress both external and internal, and his latest looks to be more of the same. But don’t mistake that for saying McQueen is taking it easy by sticking with the familiar.
His newest film, 12 Years a Slave, is a period piece that tells the true story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free man in the North who’s kidnapped in 1841 and sold into slavery in the South. While others struggle to survive around him he instead chooses to live, never forgetting the family he was stolen away from and never giving up on the idea of freedom.
Check out the trailer below.
It’s fantastic seeing Ejiofor in a rare leading performance, and almost as impressive is the film’s incredible supporting cast. In addition to McQueen regular Michael Fassbender, the rest of the cast includes Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Garret Dillahunt, Paul Giamatti, Taran Killam, Scoot McNairy, Sarah Paulson, Alfre Woodard and Quvenzhané Wallis.
The trailer does a fine job of setting the dramatic stage and showing all that’s at stake here, and unlike many films passed off as true stories these days (cough The Conjuring cough) Northup’s real life tale is one of a particularly compelling nature. I fully expect the film to have several moments where we’ll wish for the sudden arrival of Dr. King Schultz or for Northup to go all Django on his captors, but this is real life. And while it may be less cathartic it should also be far more affecting.
July 20th actually marks the 15th anniversary of Solomon Northup Day in Saratoga Springs, NY, celebrating the man’s return to freedom 160 years ago. (Check out more info here.) That’s not a spoiler by the way… the title kind of gives away how long his ordeal lasts.
The official synopsis is below.
12 YEARS A SLAVE is based on an incredible true story of one man’s fight for survival and freedom. In the pre-Civil War United States, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. Facing cruelty (personified by a malevolent slave owner, portrayed by Michael Fassbender) as well as unexpected kindnesses, Solomon struggles not only to stay alive, but to retain his dignity. In the twelfth year of his unforgettable odyssey, Solomon’s chance meeting with a Canadian abolitionist (Brad Pitt) forever alters his life.”
12 Years a Slave hits theaters in limited theatrical release on October 18th.