I had high hopes for this movie. Twelve Years a Slave is based on the memoir of Solomon Northup, a prosperous, free black man in upstate New York in the mid 1800s. His comfortable life is turned upside down when he is kidnapped and sold as a slave and ends up in Louisiana.
The first thing that struck me about this movie was that the soundtrack was jarring. While that may have been the intention, it was often too loud and downright annoying. I usually don't pay much attention to the soundtrack. It's supposed to enhance the storytelling, not get in the way of it. I felt like shouting "Shut the **** up" as I struggled to focus on the story.
Twelve Years a Slave is an unremitting tale of injustice, cruelty, and evil. Period. Exclamation point. It's a good tale to tuck in your brain. It explains the existence of racism in 2013. Nevertheless, I thought the story lacked real tension. Even explicit physical abuse, betrayal, and hatred can become tedious if there is not a strong story line and complex characters to carry it. I thought all the characters needed to be deeper, more thoroughly revealed. You can't be a cutout character in a plantation environment. Evil has many faces. Suffering has many faces. And they all scream for the complexity of an explanation that can reveal understanding.
I wanted something more--less about the outer reality of a slave's world and more about the interior reality of their thoughts and feelings and passions. And, oh, by the way, dropping Brad Pitt into a 10-minute segment did not amp the storytelling.
I wanted someone to explain to me why a black man in the mid-1850s thought he was safe and untouchable. I wanted to know why two white men went to all the trouble to carefully kidnap him and take him off to Louisiana. Why not just clobber him over the head and drag him off? What was the careful game all about? Why this particular black man?
Many will say they liked this film. I say dig me deeper. You don't need to make me count lash strokes and watch a slave's back being turned into bloody ground beef. Get me to the soul story. Help me to understand Solomon. There were many opportunities in this film, but those opportunities were reduced to a quick shorthand. There are two scenes in the movie that aroused my interest: the moment Solomon lost it and beat up his cruel overseer and the moment he thought about escaping. Sigh. No wonder that it took him 12 years to escape. Mercifully, that's where Brad Pitt comes in.
My husband, my movie barometer, yawned and fidgeted throughout the entire performance and threatened to go sit in the parking lot.
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