Cinema: 12 Years A Slave, Delivery Man
What the critics at the Independent group say about this weekend's biggest openings.
12 YEARS A SLAVE
(15A, general release, 134 minutes)
Director: Steve McQueen. Stars: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano.*****
Irish Independent, Day & Night, Paul Whitington
In 1841, a freeborn black man called Solomon Northup was enticed from his home in upstate New York with offers of a lucrative stint with a travelling circus as a musician. It was a trap, and in Washington DC he was abducted, ferried south and sold into slavery. Steve McQueen's film is based on Northup's memoirs, and stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as the cultivated New Yorker who for 12 years endured a living nightmare.
In New Orleans, Northup is sold at auction to a relatively benevolent plantation owner called William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch). Ford senses that Solomon's educated, and in the charming parlance of the time declares him "an exceptional nigger". But in the twisted world of the southern plantation, an educated slave was the ultimate provocation for overseers intent on preserving the fiction that blacks were not people, but livestock.
Solomon Northup's accomplishments make him a target for Ford's carpenter John Tibeats (Paul Dano), who tries to lynch him. Thereafter he's sold on to another master, one Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), who's unhinged and totally unpredictable. Only then does Solomon truly understand what a horrific lottery is the life of a slave.
It's faint praise to describe 12 Years a Slave as the best movie ever made about slavery, because there are so few and most are either glib or criminally disingenuous. Using dialogue sparsely and shocking images relentlessly, McQueen's movie brilliantly explores the implications and legacy of slavery, and debunks some of its more cherished myths.
Sunday Independent, Padraic McKiernan
IF the institution of slavery can be rightly considered a putrid sore that remains etched on the American psyche, then Steve McQueen's disturbing and provocative drama, 12 Years a Slave, comes across like an extended exercise in sprinkling salt on that wound.
"Based" on a true story and featuring a stellar cast that includes Michael Fassbender, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Brad Pitt, this viscerally violent piece doesn't pull any punches in terms of its depiction of the "evil that men do". Or to be more specific, the evil that white men and white women did during this dark period in US history. In terms of the unflinching and unsettling nature of the sadism portrayed, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ comes close in terms of comparison. Let's just say at this juncture, Anchorman 2 it ain't.
The story relates the living nightmare that befalls Solomon Northup, an educated and accomplished musician living in Saratoga New York circa 1841. The offer of a lucrative touring gig results in a stay in Washington from where he is sold into slavery after having been kidnapped. He is subsequently trafficked to New Orleans.
Unspeakable and borderline unwatchable scenes of human degradation follow as Northup is passed between plantations owned by William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Edwin Epps (Fassbender channelling a late period Caligula). Any amount of lynchings, beatings and whippings ensue in a manner that borders and then crosses into the realm of the gratuitous.
At least by any critical barometer that dismissed the scenes depicted in the aforementioned Passion of the Christ as "torture porn". Visually stunning, it seems only fair to state that US critics have been falling over themselves to proclaim it a masterpiece.
The unrelenting nature of the violence, however, together with a sense that the director has set out to shock and manipulate his audience (liberties are taken with the text -- in the film a savage murder of a slave takes place on the boat transporting the main protagonist to New Orleans which is followed by the corpse being tossed overboard while in the book the slave depicted is described as having died of small-pox with no reference to a brutal stabbing by one of the sailors) left me metaphorically waving a white flag by the conclusion. 12 Years a Slave? It feels much longer.
(12A, general release, 105 minutes)
Director: Ken Scott. Stars: Vince Vaughn, Cobie Smulders, Chris Pratt, Simon Delaney.
Irish Independent, Day & Night, Paul Whitington
The oafish, bear-like appeal of Vince Vaughn has always eluded me: he ambles his way so sleepily through the broad romantic comedies he favours that one suspects he has trouble remembering which one he's in. He's perfectly alright I suppose in this stiff but tolerable yarn, playing a middle-aged slacker who thinks he's achieved nothing until he hears some very unsettling news. Dave Wozniak drives a truck for his father's butcher shop and is not coping well with his girlfriend's pregnancy. One day he comes home from work to find a lawyer waiting for him.
Back in the 1990s Dave donated sperm to a bank to earn money and his bodily fluids were used to create 533 children. Now they've taken a class action against the sperm bank to find out who their anonymous father is.
While the lawyers bicker Dave decides to track his babies down and connect with them. All of this sounds like a reasonably clever idea until you realise that Delivery Man is incredibly similar to the 2011 Canadian Film Starbuck. Furthermore it lacks the original's charm and decent turns from Chris Pratt and our own Jack Reynor are ultimately in a lost cause.
Sunday Independent, Aine O'Connor
In 2011, Ken Scott made a film called Starbuck which was based on the story of a man who had donated sperm many, many times many years ago without giving much thought to the many, many children that would be born. Until they came looking for him.
Now Scott has remade the French-Canadian original in American, switching Quebec for New York and Patrick Huard for Vince Vaughn in the role of sperm donor extraordinaire David Wozniak.
Wozniak is a well intentioned messer, one of three brothers who is not only a foot taller than his sibs (Simon Delaney, yes, our Simon Delaney and Bobby Moynihan) but almost guaranteed not to do what he says he will do.
This truth is so ingrained that Wozniak's girlfriend, (Cobie Smulders -- one of the only female characters of any substance) upon discovering her pregnancy, decides he isn't really father material.
Oh the irony, for what Wozniak is about to discover is that via all those donations all those years ago he has fathered 533 children, 142 of whom have begun legal proceedings to have their biological father named. Wozniak gets a list of these kids and sets about stalking them, in a nice way. Jack Reynor, of What Richard Did Next fame, plays the first stalkee and more follow because there are lessons to be learned and morals to be outlined.
Vaughn always makes me think "what a waste". For some reason, for which there has never really been that much evidence, I reckon he has a lot more talent than he lets on. Delivery Man is not the film that proves this, but it is unexpected as a Vaughn vehicle, and a pleasant surprise. It gets mawkish, quite severely so in places, but it's undemanding and feel good and sometimes funny.
Occasionally that's all you want