McQueen has approached the subject matter with a pure honesty, unflinching at every turn, the savage and inhuman behaviour inflicted from one race to another, shown as it would have been at the time, as normal and matter of fact, making the film all the more shocking to watch. He has surrounded himself with an outstanding cast headed by Chitweter Ejiofor as Northup and Michael Fassbender as sadisitic slaveowner Edwin Epps. Both actors rose to the challenge of bringing these characters to life with a realism that was heart wrenching. Ejiofor brought a dignity to Soloman who refused to give up even when it looked as though death would be the only escape from the wretched existence he and the other slaves had to endure. Several stand out moments for me were close ups of the Ejiofor's face, with no dialogue, his thoughts and emotions being played through his eyes. Equally Fassbender (who starred in McQueen's two previous movies) played Epps with skill, bringing to the fore the complexities of a man who believed and treated his slaves as inhuman, just mere property, yet obviously having strong emotional feelings for a slave girl, Patsey (newcomer Lupita Nyong'o delivering a simply stunning debut performance), much to the displeasure and jealousy of his white wife (Sarah Paulson). Yet, this cruel man is so torn with his feelings that we also witness him both rape and whip the girl to near death. The scenes of sheer brutality and violence are unending throughtout '12 Years As A Slave', and at times are unbearably hard to watch without wanting to cry out for it to stop, however I believe it is an essential part of the story telling and needs to be seen as a reminder of the injustices inflicted on a people.
Here is a 7 minute '12 Years As A Slave' featurette (with director Steve McQueen and cast):
'12 Years As A Slave' Press Conference at the Toronto International Film Festival (with Steve McQueen and cast):