I don’t need to wax poetic on how 12 Years a Slave, for the most part, it is a good movie. I had my qualms about it, but they are barely worth mentioning. You don’t need me to tell you how much of a Oscar contender it is or how talented Steve McQueen is when it comes to storytelling. There are hundreds of other critics who can breakdown the movie into parts that can be examined, scrutinized, and then put it into better words then I could ever write. So I’ll just say it’s one of the best movies of the year and leave it at that.
What I will tell you is that I am more captivated by the story of the real-life Solomon Northup, the free black man who was sold back into slavery. Chiwetel Ejiofor did a stunning job in portraying this historic figure with a gentle hand. He knew exactly what he needed to do with this character and he did it with such grace, allure, and heartbreaking realism. There really wasn’t a moment where I felt sorry for him. Don’t get me wrong, you feel his pain and his tragedy, but he maintains a strength throughout the entire film that is infectious. He doesn’t break and he won’t let you break either…and that is why he’s pretty damn amazing.
In any case, the movie is about slavery and, based on what we have seen in movies of the past, there were slave owners who were nice…and there were MANY slave owners who were mean. In 12 Years a Slave, McQueen has an array of white characters who aren’t just predictably racist like in other movies of this ilk. They fall on a matrix from nice to mean and I have decided to plot each character on said matrix. Here’s how they rank from nicest to downright horrible.
Mr. Nice Guy: Bass (Brad Pitt): He appears briefly in the movie and is all for equal rights…and he’s really chill and open about it. He and Solomon become buds and he treats him as an equal. He also plays a Canadian. And all Canadians are nice.
Nice enough: Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch): Solomon gets sent to work at Ford’s house and he treats him like a human being, but he is still a slave to him. He keeps his sympathy towards Solomon secret. He doesn’t want to come out of the “I-treat-slaves-fairly” closet.
Good guy with bad intentions: Brown and Hamilton (Scoot McNairy and Taran Killam): If it weren’t for these two, Solomon would’ve still been free. Although they kidnapped him, they’re nice in there somewhere…but they still suck as people.
Ignorant backwoods racist: Tibeats (Paul Dano): There always has to be one twangy, sullied, idiotic, inbred moron who goes out of their way to make black peoples’ lives horrible. This is that guy.
Horrible human being: Freeman (Paul Giamatti): He’s the slave trader that strips Solomon of his identity and he treats all the slaves like animals. Yeah. He’s pretty disgusting.
The monster: Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender): You never know when he will erupt into a violent rage or condescendingly comfort his slaves. He’s a complex loose cannon. He’s unpredictable in his actions, but the result is never good.
The Queen of Mean: Mistress Epps (Sarah Paulson): She’s quiet…and the quiet ones are the worst. Unlike her crazy hubby Edwin, she has a poker face of evil. You never know what she is thinking in that calculated head of hers and when she doesn’t like something, she will make sure you know. She will cut a bitch, and then go back to making the perfect pot of tea without flinching. Don’t mess with her.
12 Years a Slave opens in theaters today.