12 Years a Slave is melodramatic, but its unrestrained portrayal of slavery reminds us that while society has progressed from its barbaric roots, we should not forget its shameful historical truths of oppression, which still exist today in different forms.

Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Solomon Northup, the New York State citizen who was kidnapped and made to work on a plantation in New Orleans in the 1800s. Steve McQueen (Hunger) directs from a script he co-wrote with John Ridley, based in part by Northup’s memoir. Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sarah Paulson, and Paul Giamatti co-star. ~ Jeremy Wheeler, Rovi

12 years a slave has no qualms in showing the casual cruelty of oppression. The direction is straightforward and the cinematography is filled with rich details. The film also shows different sides to the story – the free blacks who mingle with the white folks, the freed slaves by marriage, and “good” slave owners.

This is backed by earnest performances from Ejiofor, Nyong’o, and Fassbender. The trio stand out from the ensemble cast.

12 years a slave is undeniably an affecting film but the screenplay is modest. Save for a few fleeting scenes, the lead is a passive spectator to an episode of horrors. The villain, while not entirely simplistic because of his own inner conflict, is an underdeveloped drunken terror. His wife, played by Sara Paulson, proved to be a more convincing bitch as her polished manners hide seething jealousy.

The low point of the film is when Solomon is saved by Samuel Bass, a blonde haired savior played by Brad Pitt, which undermines the film.

But that’s really not the point isn’t it? Although it doesn’t care much about anything else other than be a gut wrenching education about slavery, it is essential cinema.

While the ending is typical Hollywood stuff, it’s no way a happy one. Your thoughts linger on the people left behind, rather than be contented with the one who managed to escape. And that is the real triumph of 12 years a slave.

My Rating: 8/10

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