Showing posts with label Sarah Paulson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sarah Paulson. Show all posts

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

12 Years a Slave

Considering the ferocity of Steve McQueen’s small but impressive oeuvre and the subject matter of his latest film, I never expected to be in for an easy ride with 12 Years a Slave but nothing, not the trailer, the word of mouth nor my own imagination could prepare me for both its excellence and the horrors to be found within it. The director’s third feature is based on the memoir of one Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man from up-state New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. The film charts the following decade and the unimaginable ordeal that is daily life for a slave.

It’s rare these days that I can report to have sat through a film screening in a packed cinema without seeing at least one or two phones light up in front of me. Talking and popcorn rustling are two other offenders which take one out of a film and back to the annoying reality of the fact that there are other humans around you. Throughout the two and a quarter hours of 12 Years a Slave however I didn’t hear a peep from the audience besides a few sniffles and yelps. The film gripped one and all from its opening frames and touched myself at least (but I suspect most) with a profound sense of heartache, perplexity and dare I say it, guilt.

Following a brief few scenes which outline Solomon’s life as an accomplished and well respected musician, living in middle class surroundings, side by side with blacks and whites, the film takes the turn you know to expect. Cinematographer Sean Bobbitt presses his camera uncomfortably close to the actors during these scenes in a trend that continues during Solomon’s kidnapping. The screen becomes claustrophobic and seems to envelop the audience as though we too are being taken against our will. I struggled for breath and my palms were clammy, as they remained so long passed the credits began to roll. The camera is unflinching, not allowing the audience to avert their gaze from both the kidnapping and the horrors that are to follow.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Martha Marcy May Marlene

If anyone ever writes a book of the worst film titles in history, Martha Marcy May Marlene will be sure to feature. This is a great shame as the film itself is fantastic.

Featuring Elizabeth Olsen in a breakout role, the film cuts between Martha’s (Olsen) time as a cult member and after fleeing, her stay with her older sister and brother-in-law. The scenes of Martha in the cult are often dark and chilling. She is degraded and abused but seems powerless to resist what is happening. Later, we watch as she is in the cult’s inner circle and now the one who is doing the abusing. While with her sister, Martha is distant, confused and scared. She often doesn’t know how to act around ‘normal’ people and this results in inappropriate and odd behaviour. Martha is obviously deeply traumatised by her time with the cult and becomes increasingly paranoid that they are still watching her and waiting to take her back.  

Martha feels uncomfortable back, in the real world

Olsen’s central performance is outstanding. Innocent and awkward yet beautiful, she is thoroughly believable as the sort of young girl who could get caught up in a cult. She is also excellent while back in normal society, playing a young woman who is trying to forget what she has been a part of. Her performance is the highlight of the film. John Hawkes who plays cult leader, Patrick, is also fantastic. He is domineering and powerful yet has an air of attraction about him. You can feel and understand why the young men and women are drawn to him and kept under his spell. His is a performance that should also draw great plaudits.

Martha under Patrick's spell

There are two disappointing things about this otherwise exceptional film. The first is the title. I spent the whole film trying to remember what it was called and it left a nagging feeling in the back of my mind throughout. I went through all the female names I could think of beginning with ‘M’ and tried combining them. ‘Is it Mary Martha Maud Marlene? Mia Michelle Margaret May? It became very frustrating! My second problem is the ending. The film builds up ninety minutes of tension and just as it reaches a crescendo, ends. This was a shame as it kind of left the audience hanging. I understand that sometimes a film wants to leave the ending up to the interpretation of its audience but I didn’t think it worked this time. It wasn’t The Sopranos.

Apart from those two, admittedly small problems, Martha Marcy May Marlene (is that right?) is a wonderful film with a fantastic central performance from Elizabeth Olsen, who we are sure to see much more of in the future.