Thursday, October 23, 2014


Film Review

Slave porn

10/23/2013

DF-02238.CR2“12 Years a Slave”

0 stars

Rated R

133 minutes

Drama

DM Art Center

Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael K. Williams, Michael Fassbender

Steve McQueen is not a storyteller. He is an exploitation filmmaker specializing in outré subject matter who passes himself off as a cinematic artiste. He’s a phony who has managed to convince a large part of the critical community that his films contain more meaning than their half-executions present — much less represent. The three feature films that the director has made, prove it.

“Hunger” (2008) is a one-note filmic screech about Irish republican Bobby Sands’ hunger strike. The focus of the film involves Sands (played by McQueen regular Michael Fassbender) smearing his cell walls with feces.

McQueen’s second movie “Shame” (2011) is a rough outline of a story about an oh-so-wealthy sex addict. The film culminates with a montage of pornographic still images that only serves to explicate how unclear McQueen is on the concepts of sex addiction and pornographic stimulation.

Which brings us to “12 Years a Slave.” More slave-porn than the thematically layered work it pretends, the movie is a marvel in how it manages to leave out the narrative’s most important parts. Here is a negative-relief of a movie where the story’s most significant aspects are left blank in favor of things such as gruesome back-whipping scenes analogous to those in Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” It’s a movie for Confederate-flag wavers to get their jollies. Nothing more.

Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Solomon Northup, an 1841 New York-dwelling African-American “free man” possessed of a superior intellect and a musical gift for the violin. There’s just one department where Solomon Northup comes up short — that’s in the area of common sense. While walking in a public park dressed in fine clothes, two men approach Solomon with a proposal to take him on the road as part of a travelling circus, where Solomon’s violin-playing will be prominently featured, much to his financial benefit. Cue the sad trombone. These are clearly conmen, so it’s all the more demeaning to the film that the weeks during which Solomon allegedly performs music to the delight of paying audience members is not included.

Rather than develop the subplot, upon which the story is based, the film jumps to a scene in which Solomon is drugged and kidnapped in Washington, D.C. Cut to the suddenly demoted black citizen being whipped for several minutes by his callous captors. Oh the brutality. “Didja looka looka lookit alla blood?”

Once enslaved on a plantation, Solomon betrays his slave brethren by turning into a human template for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Solomon falls over himself putting his engineering knowledge to use for his plantation owner William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch). Eventually, Solomon learns to play dumb — once again proving the etiquette that Tea Party members will appreciate as they fiddle with the safeties on the sweat-covered pistols they’ve smuggled in Southern state cinemas.

Based on Solomon Northup’s 1853 autobiography “Twelve Years a Slave,” McQueen’s film is, at best, the work of an untrained filmmaker ill-prepared to elevate the efforts of an equally imprecise screenwriter (John Ridley – “Red Tails”). If McQueen would fully commit to his calling as an exploitation director, he might eventually achieve his desired effects through that more direct approach.

That Quentin Tarantino’s slavery masterpiece “Django Unchained” facilitates a catharsis that “12 Years a Slave” never even glimpses tells you everything you need to know. Better to watch, or re-watch, “Django Unchained” than squander your time with this latest atrocity. CV

Mediacom