Tag Archives: Benedict Cumberbatch

12 Years A Slave

12-years-a-slave

 

A few hundred words to review 12 Years A Slave will simply not do it justice; posing the question where on earth to begin with a film that evoked such an array of emotions? One thing I will say, to me this film was flawless in its portrayal of the characters, the setting of the plantations and most importantly in the stark reality of the hardships and brutality faced by the slave population. To miss out on such a moving, powerful film would be doing a great disservice to yourself.

Steve McQueen, British director of 12 Years A Slave, has already won himself an award for best director from the New York Film Critics Circle alongside a Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture with this film. It is rumoured he may soon become the first black film-maker to win an Oscar for best director. McQueen is also known for his first feature length film, Hunger which won him the Camera d’Or award. Again starring Michael Fassbender, it is another uncomfortable yet poignant watch and after having seen both films, the parallels between them are numerous.

So what is the film about? The plot, with screenplay by John Ridley, follows the true 19th century memoir of Solomon Northup played by Chiwetel Ejiofor. Solomon is a musician, husband, father and educated citizen of New York State who in 1841 is betrayed, kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South. From where his journey begins, being sold to plantation owner, Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) to his run-ins with Tibeats, Ford’s cruel farmhand (Paul Dano) and finally to his sale and subsequent torment at the hands of plantation owner Epp’s (Michael Fassbender). Solomon Northup is deprived of his identity, unwillingly renamed ‘Platt,’ his dignity and most of all his humanity.

Similar to McQueen’s Hunger, and what contributed consistently to the raw poignancy of 12 Years A Slave, were the long single-take scenes. From a lengthy close up of Solomon’s pained face, to being cruelly strung up to a tree, left to dangle on the edge of his life whilst the plantation quietly ambled on around him. The minutes seem to drag by as some of these single scenes made for an extremely uncomfortable watch; however their purpose is subtly yet powerfully evident. Undoubtedly what is most shocking and what appears to be the driving force behind this emotional powerhouse, is the brutality. One scene, that I can’t seem to shake off and which left me feeling sickened to the point where myself and a couple of other people in the cinema had to look away, was the whipping of Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o). The uncensored and unflinching violence inflicted on Patsey during this scene as well as over the course of the film, remained just under the level of gratuitous but simply realistic stopping the film from becoming just another Hollywood blockbuster.

Whilst the majority of the focus may be on the brilliance of Chiwetel Ejiofor and rightly so, Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of Epps is what struck me most. Having seen a great deal of what he’s already starred in such as Inglorious Basterds, Eden Lake, A Dangerous Method and Hunger, this is the best performance I’ve seen from him so far. His character, Master Epps bordering on psychotic and sadistic was frighteningly unpredictable, creating almost unbearable scenes of suspense. Fassbender personified the barbarianism and cruelty capable of plantation owners and did so with terrifying ease. At the other end of the spectrum, Solomon Northup alongside Patsey brought to life the suffering and struggle of the slave population. Solomon especially so with his heart-wrenchingly pure facial expressions of utter anguish and despair. Chiwetel Ejiofor skilfully never underplays or overdoes the role of his character, bringing an unquestionable and relatable quality to Solomon.

Whilst 12 Years A Slave is not an easy watch by any means, it has brought back to the forefront of people’s minds a topic that we may have become desensitized to over time. This beautiful yet harrowing film left me feeling emotionally drained and somewhat disillusioned with human nature’s brutal capabilities, yet also with reaffirmed faith in the unbelievable strength of human spirit to overcome all the odds, at all costs.

Elin Morris
@ElinMorris2509

The Fifth Estate @ The Electric Cinema

the fifth estate

Condon’s fast-paced thriller examines the real events of the still topical Wikileaks scandal. The story follows the relationship between founder of the controversial anti-secrecy website, the enigmatic Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and the website’s idealistic spokesman Daniel Berg (Daniel Brühl) as Wikileaks gradually becomes less a platform for free speech and more a threat to lives and security. Featuring Laura Linney as American government official Sarah Shaw, and Peter Capaldi as Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, The Fifth Estate addresses issues ranging from the BNP to 9/11 to ‘Cablegate’ and explores the wide-ranging impact complete transparency has on the world’s press, its governments and its people.

The film endeavours to present two sides of a very complex and morally grey coin rather than take a side in the freedom of the press debate.  Like Brülh’s character, the audience is at first swept up in the belief that Assange’s mission to expose corruption and defend free speech is brave and revolutionary. However, as the story develops and the website’s content and publicity gathers momentum the whole matter becomes less black and white. It felt as if Condon intended to spark debate with this film, rather than condone or condemn Assange and his actions and ethos.

The film is as much an examination Wikileaks as it is a deeply personal look at Julian Assange. In the rare moments of calm between furious typing and international diplomacy crises, the audience is drip-fed details of Assange’s personal life in the form of small monologues. The regularity of these often very sad or disturbing revelations, though seemingly rather formulaic, gives a welcome respite from the high adrenaline of the rest of the film and allows us an insight into a fascinating and complicated man.

It seems Cumberbatch is becoming used to playing enigmatic and troubled geniuses, the enormity of whose intellect is matched only by their lack of social awareness. For those who will go to see this film just for its lead actor the parallels between Assange and Sherlock will be hard get over. Not that Cumberbatch was the wrong choice for this role, his capturing of Assange’s idiosyncrasies and flawless accent is almost a Michael Sheen-worthy embodiment of a public figure. What underpins this film is the relationship between Assange and Berg; the mysterious genius and the keen idealist who start out with a shared vision but whose very differing ideas about friendship and morality ultimately lead to hostility. It felt at times like a slightly more serious version of the Zuckerberg- Eduardi Saverin relationship in The Social Network.

As well as an intriguing central relationship the film looked very good. The titles and graphics were slick and impressive. Condon’s symbolic visual representation of what seemed to be the ‘inside of the internet’ comprised of rows of computers existing in a strange non-space which seemed like an office but with the sky as the ceiling. An interesting approach which was ultimately effective despite at times being less distinguishable as omnipotent cyberspace and more  reminiscent of a high-tech version of The Great Hall at Hogwarts.

Part of the fascination this film will have for audiences is that the subject matter is still fiercely topical; Julian Assange currently still taking refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.  No less intriguing is the altercation between Cumberbatch and Assange before the film was made. Cumberbatch revealed the Wikileaks founder politely responded to request to meet in person with an appeal that film not be made and that the actor abandon the role. Condon embraces the central notion of freedom of speech by concluding with an interview in which Cumberbatch as Assange both ridicules the idea of a ‘Wikileaks film’ and dismisses as lies the books from which the film was adapted.  This strange sort of meta-film moment cleverly brings a new focus to the debates surrounding free speech and censorship at its centre.  The fast pace, detailed plot-line and multiple locations, though perhaps not leaving room for supporting characters to develop, meant this film was ultimately an exciting and engaging watch.

By Lily Beazley
@LilyBeazley