12 Years a Slave was brilliant in many ways and we’ll talk about some of them later. But for now, let’s look at the cast, all of whom play their parts to perfection. Chiwetel Ejiofer leads the cast to perfection, with a quiet, subdued, disturbing performance; without him, the film simply wouldn’t survive. Michael Fassbender is very good as a sociopathic plantation owner; the part isn’t deep, but he plays it wonderfully. Lupita Nyong’o is heartbreaking and raw as the ill-fated Patsey, a slave torn between the love of her master and the hatred of her mistress. Those three are certainly the largest parts in the film, but even the smaller parts are played to absolute perfection. Benedict Cumberbatch as a kind, moral man that also happens to see nothing wrong with slavery; Paul Giamatti as an urbane, slimy slave seller; Paul Dano as a terrifying psychopathic overseer; Sarah Paulson as the frustrated, creepy wife of Fassbender’s character; Garret Dillahunt as a former overseer that finds himself sold into slavery; Christopher Berry’s horrifying cameo as a violent slave trafficker; J.D. Evermore as a pragmatic overseer; last but not least, Alfre Woodard who has an astonishing one scene cameo that is clearly the best performance in her long and storied career, a perfectly balanced, dignified turn. Many of these people have only one or two scenes, but they come in, hit their marks to absolute perfection, rivet the viewer’s attention and then step away from the film, leaving you wanting more. J.D. Evermore’s part as Chapin is so tiny that he doesn’t even appear in the cast list on Wikipedia, a cast list that contains no less than twenty-six names. This should give you some idea of how perfect the ensemble is all the way down to the tiny parts. For sheer number of noteworthy performances, this is easily the most impressive film of the year. Unfortunately, Brad Pitt, an actor I typically like, isn’t quite up to the intricate dialogue in his brief appearance, but he’s not bad or anything; he just doesn’t quite match the rest of the brilliant ensemble. No great slight to him; this is quite an ensemble to measure up to.
Next time, it’s a movie anchored by four astounding lead performances; it’s a quartet beyond reproach.