This is not meant to be a review of the film. James reviewed it back in November. (http://moviemelt.com/12-years-slave-movie-review/)
He gave it a 9/10. Whether I say it was a 9, 9.5, or even a 10, it really doesn’t matter. At this point everyone agrees it was a great film; a powerful film. But why?
The acting is the obvious choice. It was incredible and clearly one of the best-acted movies of the year. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Michael Fassbender, and Lupita Nyong’o are all forces to be reckoned with, but the performances were all enhanced by one stylist decision.
James touched on it at the end of his review where he said “Certain shots do linger a little too long, to the point of being a little over the top” , but he was wrong. Sorry buddy, but you are wrong. Those long shots are what made this film.
“12 Years a Slave” is incredibly difficult to watch because of the content and the brutality, but it is even tougher to watch because director Steve McQueen will not let you look away. He holds the shot for 10,30,60,90 seconds forcing you to be present in that moment. The audience must absorb every gruesome detail, and realize that is happening and there is nowhere to go, just like Solomon has nowhere to go.
Now, “12 years” is not the first film to display disturbing images, but most of the other films will cut away after a little while, releasing the harsh images from your focus. But not McQueen. He makes you uncomfortable and keeps you uncomfortable.
To be honest, the uneasiness of it all reminds me a little bit of the late, great Stanley Kubrick.
The long shots showcase the performances in a much more realistic fashion. You can hide bad acting with cuts, but with a 90 second shot, there is nowhere to hide. The actors were forced to stay in character for minutes at a time. Sometimes the shots were so long, I would forget I was watching a movie due to the lack of normal editing patterns. I might as well have been on the plantation.
So as James said, the shots do linger and they were over the top. But they were over the top on purpose. To make you uneasy and for it to bother you enough so it marinates in your mind.
In closing, the producers should start preparing their acceptance speech because this thing is all wrapped up. Hands down, best picture of the year.