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12 Years a Slave - Film Review

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by Helen Belli (subscribe)
I am now living in Kariong on the Central Coast
Published March 25th 2014
Courtesy of

Solomon Northup is a free, black man who lives happily in New York with his family. He works as a musician and takes a job out of town. He is drugged, kidnapped and sold into slavery. Transported to Louisiana he works on plantations. The year is 1840, the year that begins his journey into hell.

This isn't Django Unchained and Tarantino; without offending anyone he made a drama/comedy about a similar subject. He weaved his magic and the audience left the theatre laughing. His work is distinguished by its clever twisting dialogue and outbursts of extreme violence.

12 Years a Slave, however, is gut wrenching stuff. Your daily dose of cruelty depends on how savage the master is. Your are called boy or 'nigger' and considered as stupid as an ape. Humiliation is a daily dose from the master, drunk with power and /or drink.

As Solomon is transported south the music complements the feelings of powerlessness and horror he feels. This film isn't easy to watch. The real deal is on show. The daily thrashings, impossible targets set for the slaves set by the foremen, the betrayals by wretched people trying to survive.

The cruelty and hardship never ceases. Women not only had to do a days work, as good or better than the men, they were raped by the master by night.

The god fearing masters find passages in the scripture to justify their right to work slaves to death, which they did to millions of their 'property'.

Chitwel Ejiofor, who plays Solomon, is a fine actor with 18 years experience. His work includes comedies to playing Othello. In this film he has the look of a cornered animal who is determined to live, not just survive. He has mastered the technique of acting with his eyes. He holds the screen for what seems an interminable amount of time, the camera staying on the face showing the pain, hope, longing and fear that this second attempt at freedom will be successful.

We have no time to catch our breath as one horror follows another. Solomon is forced at gun point to thrush his friend Patsy, the girl raped by her drunken master. He won't thrush hard enough so the master tales the lash. His cold wife not only watches, but eggs him on.

Michael Fassbender plays the master, he is convincing as a powerful man, a drunk who is convinced of his right to do as he pleases.

After two attempts to gain his freedom, he is finally freed and returns to his family. He tries in vain to bring justice for all concerned, but to no avail.

Tarantino, who likes Australia and Australian actors - consider making a film about some of our past.

This is a difficult film to watch, a reminder that power corrupts.

Be brave and see for yourself.
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When: Now showing
Where: In cinemas
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