Tag Archives: paul giamatti

Review – 12 Years A Slave (15) [2014]

12 Years a Slave - header2

Star Rating: 4.5/5

Director:

  • Steve McQueen – Hunger, Shame

Cast:

Music Composer:

It is with great relief and pride that state-sponsored slavery has been consigned to history in the West and in most other parts of the world. From ancient times through to the mid-20th century, enforcers of slave-based systems at times demonstrated the worst aspects of human nature. Despite America’s ideology of freedom and democracy for all peoples, the country started off with a terrible stain on its record due to the racially-aggravated slave-based system that was predominantly practised in the South of the country. Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave brilliantly gives us a window into the harrowing world of the treatment black people suffered at the hands of white slave masters in the South before the Thirteenth Amendment came into force in 1865.

Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor), as a free man, with his family in New York.

Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor), as a free man, with his family in New York.

12 Years A Slave is based on the true story and memoirs of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Born and raised in New York as a free man, Solomon is invited by two ‘artists’ to share his skills with the violin and make some good money by playing in Washington DC.

But after making some money in the capital, Solomon is drugged one night and wakes up in chains in a dank underground cell. Despite his protestations of being a free man, Solomon is shipped to the South and sold into slavery.

Somehow, Solomon must stay alive, maintain his dignity, and return to New York to see his wife and two children again.

12 Years A Slave is a powerful, tear-jerking and distressing film from the off. Nothing by way of raw brutality is left out to illustrate how badly black people were treated under slavery. By starting the film with Solomon in slavery, having all his moments as a free man via flashbacks, Steve McQueen immediately enables audiences to sympathise and pity Solomon’s situation.

Sometimes (to be really pedantic) in order to rub salt into Solomon’s sorrowful predicament, the film indulges itself a little. This has the dual effect of giving Solomon so much screen time that it is as if the world revolves around him (especially due to the fairly long scene sequences that McQueen favours); and it pads out the movie’s running time to 134 minutes by putting in scenes that have no material effect on the plot. But these minor criticisms should not undermine the effectiveness of 12 Years A Slave.

Epps (Michael Fassbender), the nastiest of all the slave owners, shouting crazily at an enslaved Solomon, tormenting him.

Epps (Michael Fassbender), the nastiest of all the slave owners, shouting crazily at an enslaved Solomon, tormenting him.

The movie, however, would only be half as potent if it were not for the great performances from all the cast members, but in particular from Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender. Ejiofor captures the anger and the despair of his character. Moreover, he portrays the sheer willpower of Solomon to survive with (some of) his dignity intact splendidly. Whenever Solomon looks back at the life that was taken from him, viewers cannot help but feel Solomon’s pain, and credit must be given to Ejiofor for enabling audiences to feel such strong emotions.

On the flip side, Fassbender also makes viewers feel strong sentiments with his performance as Edwin Epps, the ‘N*****-Breaker’ as his character is proudly nicknamed. It would have been easy for Fassbender to fall into the trap of a pornographic nastiness (as Ramsey Snow from Game of Thrones and the villains in Hostel and The Human Centipede all gleefully jump into). But by Fassbender playing Epps as an eccentric and quasi-comical human being, with problems of his own, Fassbender provides us with a powerful performance of a sadistic, yet troubled soul that feels entirely natural under the circumstances.

Fassbender can be seen to represent some of the worst facets of slave owners (and humanity in general when given licence). Nevertheless, 12 Years A Slave makes a point to show audiences that some slave owners were not as bad as Epps, and that they lived in fear of men like Epps and their own henchmen because of it.

Black slaves hung for the crime of running away from their cruel masters, and to deter others from trying to do the same.

Black slaves hung for the crime of running away from their cruel masters, and to deter others from trying to do the same.

Being afraid, of course, does not excuse keeping slaves or their actions. But as honest as the film is regarding the cruelty of the slave-system in the South, it is equally honest about why some people, who would have probably been good citizens in the free North, perhaps did not do enough (or anything at all) to help bring down the system. Steve McQueen must be applauded for this, like he should be for virtually everything else in this movie, as it would have been easy to inaccurately portray all slave owners as the Devil incarnate.

Over-all, 12 Years A Slave can be best summed up in the words of one of the actors in the film: “amazing… and none of it good.” Through outstanding performances from the cast, the film powerfully reveals the horrors and brutality of the slave-based system in the South of America in the mid-nineteenth century. One is likely to leave the film feeling numb and distressed, but also with the knowledge that not all the slave owners were wicked and that good men like President Abraham Lincoln put an end to the reprehensible system almost 150 years ago.

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Review – The Ides of March (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 4/5

During the campaign to become the President of America, the public and the media tend to focus so greatly on the candidates and their running-mates that the people behind the campaigns frequently fade into the background. The Ides of March, in fascinating fashion, reveals some of the darker arts that go on behind the scenes in presidential races, and why a term synonymous with the assassination date of Julius Caesar is so apt.

The main men behind Morris’ campaign, Paul (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Ben (Max Minghella) and Steven (Ryan Gosling), sitting and discussing the campaign with the journalist, Ida (Marisa Tomei).

The Ides of March is not a true story. But much of the film, directed by George Clooney (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Good Night, And Good Luck, Leatherheads), is based round the unsuccessful run of Clooney’s father, Nick Clooney, for Congress in 2004. The movie centres round Steven (Ryan Gosling – Fracture, Drive, The Big Short), a relatively young and idealistic Junior Campaigns Manager for the Governor of Pennsylvania, Mike Morris (George Clooney – Michael Clayton, The American, Gravity). Morris is in the running for the Democrat presidential nomination, and is up against Senator Ted Pullman (Michael Mantell – A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Ocean’s Thirteen, Ca$h). To gain the necessary number of Democrat delegates for nomination, Steven and his boss, Paul (Philip Seymour Hoffman – Capote, Mission Impossible III, The Master), attempt to court Senator Thompson (Jeffrey Wright – Casino Royale, Source Code, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), who holds the delegates for Ohio, a key state for nomination.

However, Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti – Saving Private Ryan, Cinderella Man, 12 Years A Slave), Pullman’s Campaign Manager, has secretly made an agreement with Thompson, offering the Senator the position of Secretary of State in exchange for his endorsement. For Steven and Paul, the agreement must be broken at any cost. Simultaneously, Duffy pulls a trick or two of his own, with Steven in the thick of it. Thus, the campaign backstabbing begins.

The plot for The Ides of March is not particularly fast-moving, but it is interesting and revelatory. Certain aspects of the storyline might go too far (as some of the scandals would be almost impossible to keep hushed up with the current hawk-like media), but over-all it is plausible. Indeed, it is believable that some campaigners would betray their loyalties for personal gain, hence the film’s title being so fitting.

The pretty intern, Molly (Evan Rachel-Wood), out for a drink with Steven.

Paul and Duffy, the characters played by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti, respectively, epitomise the modern day Marcus Brutus, the friend-turned-assassin of Caesar. Both, Hoffman and Giamatti, play the ruthless sort of individuals who would use underhand tactics to ensure that their candidate would come to the fore.

Without being outstanding, both actors play very well. Moreover, their characters teach Steven a lesson in the malicious nature of political campaigns and politics in general too. If one leaves the cinema with a bad taste in their mouths about politics, this might reflect the director’s disillusionment with the industry after his father’s failed campaign. Could Steven’s experiences in The Ides of March divulge some of what happened to Nick Clooney in 2004?

Regardless, Steven’s actor, Ryan Gosling, gives a solid performance in the lead role. The changes he goes through, as events around him get nasty, are praiseworthy. It also gives Steven’s personality a third, survival-type dimension that makes his character credible. Yet, Gosling is far from brilliant; he lets himself down when Steven’s with Molly (Evan Rachel-Wood – Thirteen, The Wrester, True Blood), the cute, just-out-of-college intern. Their conversations are, at times, painful to watch, and their exclusion would have benefitted the film.

Surprisingly, George Clooney has only a limited role in The Ides of March. As ever, Clooney’s character, Mike Morris, is smooth-talking and suave (smug as well). But how many times has Clooney churned out this sort of performance? In saying that, Governor Morris also has a shady side, which gives him depth and virtually certifies him as a real (morally dubious) politician. Still though, Clooney’s performance here is one we expect from him, and is, therefore, nothing exceptional.

Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney), looking very presidential, addressing an audience as part of his campaign to become the leader of the free world.

Clooney’s ability to act, direct, produce, and screen-write vary in quality. The directing and the production are fine, even if there is an unexpected amount of silence before and during scenes. The way the movie has been choreographed might seem peculiar as well, since discussions frequently begin a while before the people come together in the scene. That does not make it bad, just unusual. The same is true for the music, which Clooney probably did not use enough to his advantage to enhance scenes or uplift viewers, unlike The King’s Speech.

Nevertheless, Clooney has written the dialogue very well. It may not be on a par with The Social Network, The King’s Speech or True Grit; yet, it is always apt for the scenarios without being melodramatic.

On the whole, The Ides of March is a very decent film about an indecent industry. The world of presidential campaigns is one that often goes unreported, and this movie sheds light (or darkness) upon it. Above-all, just like its title, The Ides of March exposes the ruthless, double-crossing nature of politics and political campaigns, and why it is perhaps not an industry for nice, honest people.

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