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October 9, 2013

New York Film Festival Preview: 12 Years a Slave

by Curtis John

Screening: Sunday, October 13, 5pm (Walter Reade Theater)

Series: Film Comment Magazine Presents


Steve McQueen (Shame, 2011) returns to the New York Film Festival with his powerful adaptation of the memoir of Solomon Northup, a freeborn black man from Saratoga, NY who in 1841 was lured and abducted into slavery in the Deep South. We follow Solomon’s journey as he first intends to revolt and earn his freedom, to eventually have his spirit and body be broken to the point where he just tries to survive. Played by Chiwetel Ejiofor (American Gangster, 2007), his Solomon tries to maintain some form of dignity while being traded between slave trader Burch (Paul Giamatti), then sold to kindly farmer William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch, Star Trek into Darkness, 2013). But due to his outspokenness toward Ford’s carpenter (Paul Dano), Solomon is soon sold to sadistic cotton grower Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), whose horrific acts embody the grimmest barbarity of slavery.

With his usual steadfast and brave approach at portraying grim reality, McQueen does not hold back the savagery of physical—but also mental—violence inflicted upon Solomon and the slave community. The filmmaker transcends all expectations with each new film. Ejiofor does a flawless job of carrying the emotional impact of 12 Years, but it is Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o in the role of Patsey, Epps’s favorite cotton picker and bed wench, whom audiences will come to both love and feel for as she tries to survive the grips of Epps and the scorn of his wife Mary (Sarah Paulson, Mud, 2012). The diminutive but commanding Nyong’o steals the movie.

It is my job as a writer to encapsulate films for you, but 12 Years a Slave defies simple summarization. McQueen—along with John Ridley’s (Red Tails, 2012) screenplay—has crafted what is is undoubtedly one of the year’s most powerful films. Renewed studies and debates about slavery and its long-lasting effects, not just on the black population of the United States but on all Americans, will most certainly be reignited. Be sure to look out for the impactful performances from Alfre Woodard, Michael K. Williams, Chris Chalk, and Brad Pitt, who was also a producer on the film.


Limite Rating: 5/5

Director: Steve McQueen

Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael K. Williams, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano, Dwight Henry, Quvenzhané Wallis, Scott McNairy, Taran Killam, Chris Chalk, Adepero Oduye, Sarah Paulson, Alfre Woodard, Garret Dillahunt, Brad Pitt

Genre: Narrative, Drama

Country: USA

TRT: 133 min.


The 51st New York Film Festival runs from September 27 – October 13, 2013.

Follow Limité Film Contributor Curtis John on Twitter (@MediaManWatch) and check out his blog,

posted by: Curtis John
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