Oscar buzz has been building lately for this year's best actor prize. Tom Hanks and Robert Redford are sure to be nominated but the biggest surprise will be the nomination (and if there is any justice, the win) for Chiwetel Ejiofor. Mr. Ejiofor gives a towering, masterful and heartbreaking performance as Solomon Northup, a free African American living in Saratoga NY who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the pre-Civil War south.
The story is based on true events and the source material is the book Mr. Northup eventually wrote about the 12 darkest years of his life. Directed with a clear, uncompromising vision by Steve McQueen, this important film is not to be missed. This is a raw visceral look at slavery and it contains scenes of cruelty and violence that may be hard to watch but it is remarkable in it's honesty and emotional impact.
The film contains many recognizable names in supporting roles, some not more than a cameo. Besides Mr. Ejiofor, the actors with the most screen time are Michael Fassbender as a heartless slave owner and Sarah Paulson as his equally brutal wife. Benedict Cumberbatch (turning up everywhere these days) is a kinder slave owner who is forced to "sell" Mr. Ejiofor to Mr. Fassbender. Also appearing in minor but important roles are Paul Giamatti, Brad Pitt, Paul Dano, Alfie Woodward and in a memorable debut, Lupita Nyong'o as Patsy, another slave on Mr. Fassbender's plantation.
As difficult it may be to watch, Mr. Ejiofor's quiet dignity and will to survive will keep you enthralled. This story is a small but important part of our nation's history and credit Mr. McQueen, his creative team and his actors for bringing it to life.