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12 Years A Slave/Rated R For Sex, Nudity, Whippings, Beatings, Kidnapping and Then More Beatings.

Moviemakers trot out the subject of American slavery, and the always appalling mistreatment of one group of people by another, approximately every 12 years. So it’s that time again. One example of this theme is the landmark TV series Roots in 1977. Steven Spielberg returned to this theme with Amistad in 1997. Now, 12 Years a Slave returns to the subject.

If you have seen any of the above you know pretty much what you are in for. If you don’t think you need to suffer through this tale of man’s inhumanity to man, you may think you have no reason to see this version of 12YAS. You are wrong.

In what has garnered several Oscar nominations, director Steve McQueen has crafted a fine movie that is almost totally performance driven. (Note: 12YAS was previously a made for TV film in 1984 with Avery Brooks of Star Trek Deep Space Nine in the title role)

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The character on whom the film is based was born Solomon Northup in 1808, a free man living in NY state. He was kidnapped and sold into slavery, where he remained for a period of, you guessed it, 12 years. Northrup was eventually freed and returned to NY, where he became an active abolitionist. He wrote the memoir on which the movie is based in 1853. Sometime after 1857, he faded into the mists of history, his ultimate fate unknown.

Oscar-nominated Englishman Chiwetel Ejiofor plays the lead. He is a veteran actor who appeared in Spielberg’s Amistad. Actress Lupita Nyong’o has received a supporting role nomination for her role as a slave girl named Patsey.

During his 12-year enslavement, Northup passes from owner to owner, some more humane than others. Benedict Cumberbatch (Khan in Star Trek and Sherlock Holmes in the BBC production Sherlock) is on the better side. Michael Fassbender is the worst. He’s so abominable that the audience hopes for a tree to break and land on his miserable head. Paul Giamatti, also seen in Saving Mr. Banks, is a villainous slave trader. Actor Paul Dano plays a trashy slave boss.

In a twist of fate, Giamatti, who was recently the main prisoner in the Prisoners and was graphically beaten and tortured in that film, ends up getting more of the same in 12YAS. Brad Pitt shows up late in the film as a Canadian doing manual labor. He ends up being a saint to Northup.

The film features a dark-toned score by Hans Zimmer. It sounds a lot like John Williams’ somber themes for Amistad and Lincoln. The entire film was shot in and around New Orleans. As a drama, it is one of the best movies of 2013. If you plan on seeing it, though, take my warnings seriously. The beatings, whippings and other physical torture are graphic and disturbing.

12YAS has received nine Oscar nominations. If it wins it will take approximately 12 hours to get the awarding done. It’s the Oscars after all. Rated 3.5 out of 4.0 reasons to suspect another film of this type in 2023 give or take a few years.

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