12 Years a Slave follows Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man who is kidnapped and sold into slavery. This is the most realistically gruesome film I've seen in a long time. There are scenes in this film that I did not want to see. All of which involved slave punishment. Sadly, I could see this film being worse. Within a two and a half hour film there weren't as many punishment scenes as I thought there'd be because most of the film featured establishing shots or close ups of Solomon staring out at the nothingness that has become him. These shots are all art-house style, with Steve McQueen (director) focusing on exotic southern trees at sunset, the swamp lands, and the long shots of torture. One scene lasting several minutes, features Solomon hung by his neck and trying to hold himself up. I felt as if I couldn't breathe and just wanted Solomon to be set free and the rope cut. Every shot and every scene has cinematographic magic, but one of the best shots of the film comes at the beginning, when McQueen guides a camera through a cane field and up to Solomon Northup.
Unfortunately, McQueen is bogged down by the scope of Solomon's journey from free man to slavery and back. At times McQueen spends time focusing on the beauty of the landscape more than the story. The first hour of the film is fast, with Solomon almost immediately becoming a slave. The second half of the film focuses on Solomon living at the plantation of Edwin Epps, played amazingly by Michael Fassbender, and Solomon's struggles with his life of slavery. As the first half moves fast, the second half seems slow. Solomon has finally settled at a plantation with his new master, Edwin Epps, a cruel owner. Every character in this film plays their part great, but Michael Fassbender is extravagant in his portrayal of a drunken, cotton plantation owner who is at odds on his sexist treatment of slaves. Chiwetel's Solomon is also well crafted. Solomon is not ready to give up his humanity as the film progress, no matter how much he is punished for his beliefs or intelligence.
Good Qualities: Great characters, great cinematography
Bad Qualities: McQueen seems to choose many art-house style shots to fill in screen time instead of more story.