We have become very used to seeing bad things happen in films only to allow for a much bigger cathartic pay off at the end. When someone does something horrific we know that later on we are probably going to see them get their just desserts – and if they have been suitably awful they will probably die in some horrific way. Depending on the context, I usually embrace this and ignoring the fact that, for instance, Judge Dredd, is a terrible and scary vision of a world without due justice and fair trial, am pretty happy when the bad guys die. What makes 12 Years a Slave especially impressive is its absolute commitment to showing the reality of the situation the characters find themselves in. Importantly, this ultimately comes down to no one really being punished for the wrongs they commit, when it would have been so simple to spend a little more time building up emotion at the end the reality is that perhaps returning home after all those years was never going to be as simple as just turning up. The film looks beautiful, and the acting is impressive, if a little cliche at times, but I think the main reason the film has won a lot of awards because it deals with an incredibly difficult subject in the manner which it deserves. It does not go too far with it, probably safe in the knowledge that what you’ll see is terrible enough that emotionally you’ll be as engaged with with characters as much as if it had gone down the simpler, less meaningful cathartic revenge route – you always have Django Unchained if you fancy a bit of that.
12 Years a Slave