12 Years a Slave is one of the better movies of the year. It has a mature, bone dry throat approach. Never will you spend so much time memorized by the human eye. The guard’s demonic green eyes glow in the shadows. A little girl in the background glances about. And there is an echo of a famous shot in La Jetee where we make eye contact with a character on the screen. The cricket noise rises as the eyes approach just like the bird chatter in La Jetee. The eyes do most of the acting in this movie and it is a wonderful choice by Steve McQueen.
There are many remarkable images in this movie but the use of sound is disappointing. Did each sharp whip crack make me jump? Yes but the image alone can do such. The crack is pushed to the front of the mix and the image suffers. Do they not trust the audience to feel? What would Bresson do? The soundtrack itself felt too obvious with its solemn passages but that’s Hans Zimmer’s “thing.” The Scott Walker Tilt like percussion songs does well to emphasize tension on the screen when that is used.
The direction and cinematography are incredible. McQueen knows how to get an image to stick. I respect Hunger and Shame. Hunger has an awesome use of sound (police batons thundering away) and image (the cigarette being smoked). Solomon dangling in the mud is a stunning image as the length of the scene creeps into mind while watching him try to gain footing in the mud. The camera takes the lead during a sequence where a woman is to be punished for leaving the plantation. All to fetch a bar of soap felt earned for picking the most cotton. The camera swings with a drunk fever as a whip is passed to Solomon.
My favorite image in the movie is the body bag bobbing and bouncing in the boat’s wake. A grey bag gently whisked away from us. The body is guided nowhere like a memory.
As a side bet: winner of best cinematography and lighting Oscar.