12 Years a Slave (2013)


Dave’s 3-Word Review:
It’s good, obviously.

As 2013 rolled in, I was so happy about the Academy Awards that year I even made a prediction post, because I saw most of the films and actually agreed with the choices (for the most part). This year, I was so angry at the selection that I skipped the award show last night. Well, 12 Years a Slave won for best picture, as I’m sure that you’re aware, but what did I think of it? In short, I would have preferred Captain Phillips to have won because I’m hard to sell a true story to. There’s more to it than that, but let’s get into the review.

This follows the story of Solomon Northup, a free black man as he is kidnapped and thrown into slavery for, as the title suggests, twelve years. Of course, the viewer doesn’t know what happens by the end of that twelve years…will he die? Will he be set free? Will he go Django Unchained on everyone…we just don’t know. Throughout his time, we learn just how bad slavery was…again…and just how unfortunate this guy’s life really is, and what that means as a whole.

I’ll start off on a good note and say I love the premise. I had no idea what the story was before I watched it, and the premise is very interesting. I may be uneducated by saying this, but I’ve never heard of freed black men being kidnapped and forced into slavery. Apparently, it was a thing, and was very hard to prove, let alone get word out without risking death upon yourself. So that’s really cool. I also love the choice of actors in this film, and how they avoided the overdone ensemble cast other films have done. Instead of trying to focus on everyone all at once, this film focused only on Solomon’s travels and each chapter of his journey, we meet new people who are either good, bad, or somewhere in between. Most of them are a-class actors.

I also want to mention that this film was masterfully shot and executed. The actors put on brilliant and believable performances with an uncontainable amount of true emotional presentations. The music was also perfectly selected, and the cinematography is to die for. There are a few long shots of nothing really happening, yet they are the most powerful scenes in not only this film, but so many others. Like I said, it was wonderfully shot. Everything was put together so incredibly seamlessly, and I do believe it deserved to be in the running for best picture of 2013. However, I rated this 87% and Captain Phillips 98% why? Because I’m a really hard sell for true stories.

Humor me, if you will, a cook book. Imagine a page that gave you so many delicious and amazing ingredients, but no real recipe. In theory, these ingredients could make something really wonderful, and a lot of people just like to eat the ingredients as is. I, for one, like the main course. The big picture. 12 Years a Slave, and other true stories like it, have a lot of delicious ingredients… but ultimately, that’s all it had. There was no real direction other than the “12 years”, and even then, there are no dates around to follow with the main character how far in that timeline he has gone. By the time the film ended, I was convinced he had only been a slave for maybe 5-6 months, not 12 years. Yeah, there are different people he meets, but we have no way of telling how long he’s there and I would have liked at least that much.

Now remember, just because I’m a hard sell for true stories doesn’t mean I’m incapable of being swayed. 12 Years a Slave does a fine job at proving to me how good it is on almost every single technical level, but for the most part, it’s not really my type of movie. I would consider it the Lincoln of 2013, which I also gave a lower score than most people but still thought it was technically proficient.

The Good:

There’s a lot to love about our 2013 Best Picture Oscar winner. The acting, writing, editing, direction, pacing, cinematography, casting, well…everything that takes place behind and in front of the camera, pretty much. It deserved its nomination.

The Bad:

Notice I said it deserved its nomination…not win. I still think Captain Phillips deserved the win for this one, but then again, as I’ve mentioned in the post: I’m a hard sell with true stories.

Memorable Quote:

Solomon Northup: I don’t want to survive. I want to live.

4 thoughts on “12 Years a Slave (2013)

  1. Nice write up. 12 Years A Slave is certainly a quality film with powerful messages but it’s also a film that it’s difficult to enjoy. Captain Phillips, Inside Llewyn Davis, August Osage County and Blue Jasmine were all more enjoyable viewing, making them much easier to rank as personal favourites. But, for me, 12 Years A Slave was a worthy winner precisely because McQueen gave us a different kind of cinematic experience.


      1. Definitely. It’s worth seeing for the performances alone. It’s very intense with lots of dialogue between the characters and there are lots of themes in there about sibling and mother-daughter relationships. I’ve heard a few people say that they haven’t really connected with it though – its run time is reduced significantly from the play it’s based on and I think some people feel it doesn’t translate well to film. To be honest, I think it needed to be a bit longer to give the characters a bit more space to breath but it’s still one of my favourites of the year.


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