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Is the success of ’12 Years a Slave’ justified?

Is the success of ’12 Years a Slave’ justified?

by userJanuary 15, 2014

Is 12 Years a Slave overrated?


Director Steve McQueen’s ’12 Years a Slave’ is being hailed as one of the most ‘powerful movies ever made’. It beat ‘American Hustle‘ to claim the spot on the UK’s biggest opening weekend. Furthermore, some believe that its reward as ‘Best Motion Picture’ at the Golden Globes is the most significant award of the night and is an indication that ’12 Years a Slave’ will sweep all the awards at the Oscars. The film has received outstanding praise for its direction and superb acting. I believe this film is over-hyped, whilst it is an incredible film in terms of acting and cinematography it is confused and doesn’t tell you anything new about slavery, just that it was bad. I use the  phrase ‘over-hyped’ carefully because I appreciate why it is getting the recognition it is, I simply believe that this is just a very good film but nothing more, but to try and say that this is the ‘film of our generation’ is unjustified and misleading, as it isn’t that good.


Before I start talking about the things I disliked about the movie, I must mention what I thought was good. McQueen flourishes his directorial skill by creating this stretched imaged on the screen of grief and violence and drags it out by incorporating the background. In one particular scene, the main character is being tortured and in the back we see children playing. For me, this shows the cleverness of McQueen and how he has captured the brutality of whats happening which is contrasted against the innocence of children. He most definitely has created the film which is gorgeous to look at and admire as art.  The acting in this film has to be commended, Chiwetel Ejiofor encapsulates every emotion in his character and we see Solomon’s struggle as it so clearly depicted by Chiwetel Ejiofor. Michael Fassbender succeeds in creating one of the most despicable men in a film, he himself is a likable man, but his character is completely the opposite of himself. His character is vicious, brash and ignorant. We no longer see Fassbender, instead we see this evil plantation owner. The acting and direction alone make this a very good film, but some issues prevented it from being an even better film.


My first gripe with this movie is its score by Hans Zimmer, the use of the violins to establish this melancholic feeling initially succeeds, but it is overused far too frequently to the extent that it becomes annoying and cheesy. The score detracted me from the sombre mood that was trying to be created. A separate issue is the structure of the film itself, the issue is not about length but more how there wasn’t enough new material to fill the full 134 minutes. The middle section of this film is filled with horrific picture to the extent where the viewer feels he has had enough, this over emphasis on the middle section leads to an incredibly rushed ending. After having briefly touched upon it, the issue of torture in this film is interesting. There is no denying atrocities happened during the slave era in America, McQueen shows us a fair few scenes of torture. But I feel as if too much of an emphasis was placed upon these nasty acts of violence, we understand bad things happened and we understand the slave era was horrific. But the film treats us as if we have no knowledge of this, we are constantly reminded of the appalling acts during this time that we feel belittled and guilt-ridden. You do feel sympathy and you quite rightly should, but i feel the film is too reliant upon this and subsequently some character development is lost. I feel like I didn’t know the characters well enough, the film didn’t develop its characters properly. I saw Solomon as a free man with a family who enjoyed playing the violin, the rest was unknown to me. Had we less torture and focus upon graphic encounters we may have had more character development which I believe the film was lacking. Lastly, one of my biggest issues with the film is its ending, my biggest issue is not how the film ends suddenly but it is with that casting of Brad Pitt. Without spoiling the movie, Brad Pitt is in the film towards the end and does nothing but ruin it with his lackluster performance which feels just like a Brad Pitt performance. He single-handedly distracted me from the film and brought me out of the world it tried ever so hard to establish. These are criticisms of a good movie that prevented it from being a great one.


I must reiterate that I don’t think ’12 Years of Slave’ is a bad film, I think the opposite, it is a good film that has issues that prevent it from being an amazing film. I feel as if the film is receiving almighty praise due to its sensitive issue and for some reason to suggest the film isn’t good is to somehow be cynical of the struggle of the African-American during the slave era. This isn’t the case, the film should be judged on how it deals with an issue not just on the issue. I feel, rather negatively, that the film is receiving warm applause because audiences were guilt tripped into sympathizing with the film and its delicate issue. All in all ’12 Years a Slave’ is good but its praise as one of the best films of the year/generation is justified as there are flaws in the movie which hinder it being great.


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