12 Years A Slave (15) This powerful study of slavery, and Chiwetel Ejiofor's performance as Solomon Northup, has been widely praised across the States, critics and audiences alike. In the pre-Civil War United States, Solomon, is a free black man from upstate New York, who is ultimately abducted and sold into slavery. What follows is an emotionally charged, brutal and heartfelt portrayal of Solomon's predicament to stay alive and to maintain his dignity. Director Steve McQueen's brief cinematic career trajectory with Hunger and Shame demonstrates a zeal for complex portrayals of male leads, in particular his partnership with Michael Fassbender. Fassbender's characters in Hunger and Shame had their deeply emotional complexities but are probably nothing compared to his role as brutal slave owner Edwin Epps.
Yet this is about Northup's journey. Expect an emotional, unflinching and formidable portrayal of slavery, a time of a society ravaged by social and economic inequality where even the most noble of men are dogged by such inequalities. With its ten BAFTA nominations and no doubt upcoming raft of Oscar nods, this is about cinema delivering a message and leaving an impression not easily dispelled or forgotten.
The Railway Man (15) The second powerful film of the week is The Railway Man. Colin Firth plays Eric Lomax in a true story of a World War 2 victim of the "Death Railway" and sets out to find those responsible for his torture. Lost and still affected by the torture of WWII, his chance encounter and romance with Patti, played by Nicole Kidman, brings an inkling of normality to his life. Yet still haunted by his past, he goes out on a mission to find his perpetrators. The film is shown over two time frames recounting the atrocities of war as well as Lomax's love story and mission. I will be very keen to see what tone the film delivers in its portrayal. Given Lomax is played by Firth, I am expected many layers of subtlety countered by more eccentric and extreme moments.
Delivery Man (12A) By contrast, Vince Vaughn is back. In Delivery Man, Vaughn plays one of cinema's typical 'underachievers' who finds purpose in purpose through an outstanding means. He finds out he has fathered 533 children following donations to a fertility clinic 20 years previously. A whole bunch of them want to reveal his identity so he must decide whether or not to come forward. Cue to tale where he encounters and meets with these children. If you didn't know, the film is a remake of a 2011 French-Canadian film called Starbuck which I haven't seen but I'd be curious to know how the original source material stands up to this remake or whether it just takes verbatim from the original film and doesn't even make it as good? I haven't seen or often wanted to see many of films of recent years. There was a time Vaughn did some great stuff. Yes, it's true, going right back to the excellent Swingers. Is this film likely to buck the trend? Mmmm. Not convinced.
Elsewhere over the next week, I'm delighted to see the mac are doing a run of really interesting films over the next week including the most brilliant Nebraska (15) (one of my picks of 2013); the excellent transcendental and existential survival film All is Lost (12A) (already a potential pick for 2014). and finally Gloria (15), Chile's official entry for this year's Oscars, with a performance by Paulina Garcia which won the Silver Bear Best Actress Award at last year's Berlin Film Festival. Ok, that's it from me.