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|Originaltitel:||12 Years a Slave|
|Laufzeit:||Ca. 135 min.|
|FSK:||From 12 years|
The African-American Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) lives a modest but satisfied life with his wife and two children in New York State. At a time when slavery and racism dominated the country, the carpenter and gifted violinist gained a good reputation, which in 1841 drew the attention of two strangers from a travelling circus to Solomon. The men offer him a short, very well-paid job as a musician at their show - an offer that the bona fide Solomon simply cannot refuse. But the decision to follow the two strangers to Washington D.C. without informing his family soon proves to be the biggest mistake Solomon has ever made. Although at the beginning everything looks like the men will keep their word, Solomon suddenly finds himself in the hands of slave traders on the way to Louisiana after a meal together. He has no civil liberties here anymore. He is sold in chains and has to work for his new masters under the hardest and most humiliating conditions. For Solomon, an almost hopeless fight for his freedom begins, a fight that will last twelve years and which he almost pays for more than once with his life…
With "12 Years a Slave", "Shame" director Steve McQueen clearly moves into Oscar territory. The movie is really outstanding from an acting point of view, there is no question about that. But just like in "The Butler" by Lee Daniels, "12 Years a Slave" also has the feeling that it was a bit too obvious that the big film awards were being watched. Like Daniels, McQueen has shown himself to be a rather inappropriate filmmaker with a high artistic aesthetic in his previous films. And even though "12 Years a Slave" is beyond any doubt in terms of its craftsmanship and can show a great, uncomfortable intensity dramatically, the film clearly moves much more on mainstream paths than "Shame" or "Hunger".
That's why McQueen doesn't succeed in taking sides with history that wouldn't have been impressively addressed in the great series "Roots" and similar works. Apart from that, "12 Years a Slave" is a stirring drama with some small lengths, that primarily lives from its strong actors. Chiwetel Ejiofor finally gets the attention he deserves. As a man who at first believes very well, then despairs and is maltreated, who tries everything not to let himself be broken in hope in the face of humiliations and violence, the Brit is simply great. He is supported by an equally impressive ensemble, from which newcomer Lupita Nyong`o, Michael Fassbender, Sarah Paulson and Benedict Cumberbatch stand out. There's nothing wrong with Paul Dano's performance either, but after "There will be Blood", "Prisoners" or "Looper" he runs the risk of being fixed to a very similar role type. Since you've seen similar things about Dano many times before, his performance here doesn't offer any real surprises and therefore doesn't seem as intense as Michael Fassbender's play.
The "12 Years a Slave" based on the memoirs of Solomon Northup isn't really what you would call a feel-good or entertainment cinema. For over two hours, the viewer has to watch people being humiliated, tortured and exploited. It's a film that's so unpleasant precisely because it reveals that much of the prejudice and hatred you get to feel here is still more or less hidden beneath the surface in parts of society today. And that's why the movie's message, never to give up hope, is somehow liberating at the end. Because at least with this story the viewer can believe that the good can somehow prevail in the end.
In the fight against slavery and racism "12 Years a Slave" doesn't really tell a new story, but it's moving and thrilling. If you are willing to expose yourself to a film that makes you angry and sad, that is painful and uncomfortable and that, with the courage to hope, also leaves you with a very depressing aftertaste, this work can be recommended to you without the slightest reservation, despite minor criticisms.
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