12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2014) Chiwetel Ejiofor, Dwight Henry

In the antebellum United States, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery.

While not exactly ostentatious, McQueen does tend to operate in a somewhat decadent register, furnishing his productions with the sort of high-minded embellishments you might expect of an artist accustomed to the requisite panache of modern art. His is a decidedly high style – every image has been precisely calibrated, tailored to fit a consonant aesthetic. There are those who regard this tendency as of rather dubious merit. Do the painterly compositions and dexterous long takes with which McQueen’s films unfailingly come equipped betray their author’s need to merely show off, as some critics have argued? Calum Marsh, Sight & Sound.

Mr. McQueen’s sympathies are as unqualified as his control. There is much to admire about 12 Years a Slave, including the cleareyed, unsentimental quality of its images — this is a place where trees hang with beautiful moss and black bodies — and how Mr. Ejiofor’s restrained, open, translucent performance works as a ballast, something to cling onto, especially during the frenzies of violence. These are rightly hard to watch ... Manohla Dargis, NYT.

Garry Gillard | reviews | New: 9 August, 2018 | Now: 20 October, 2021