You are not ready for what a powerful and stunning film '12 Years a Slave' is. No movie I've seen has captured the brutality and godlessness of America's greatest sin with such unflinching honesty.
Based on the 1853 autobiography by Solomon Northup, it's the story of a free man in New York with a wife and kids who is kidnapped and sold into slavery. Chiwetel Ejiofor is wonderful as Northup, trying to cling to his humanity and hope as they're agonizingly chipped away. You can see it all in his eyes.
We follow Northup to a pair of plantations - one owned by Edwin Epps, played by a sadistically explosive Michael Fassbender. Roles like this can easily go over the top, but Fassbender can show flashes of humanity within this drooling, savage monster in a single look.
The movie is filled with some great performances by familiar actors like Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano, Benedict Cumberbatch and Brad Pitt, but the most effective might be from Lupita Nyong'o in her film debut as a slave who suffers uniquely at the hands of Epps as his chosen sexual outlet.
Much of the dialogue in John Ridley's elegant script is taken straight out of Northup's memoir, and the way it develops characters binds us to them. Director Steve McQueen is the perfect fit for the material. He's a fearless filmmaker, unwilling to turn his camera away from shocking brutality when we wish he would.
The fact that McQueen, Ejiofor and Fassbender are all from the UK has some complaining that the film is "American" enough, which is a flimsy and stupid criticism. Actually, maybe it's necessary for foreigners to show us this dark side of our history with such truthfulness.
I'm not telling you to see "12 Years a Slave" so you can feel terrible. This is a great movie - uplifting in the face of terror.
It's beautifully made and astonishingly moving.
EPPLER'S RATING: * * * * *
Out of five stars