Whenever a new Steve McQueen film comes around, I immediately focus in on anything there is to see from it. Who can blame me for obsession, particularly considering his first two films established such a distinct style visually and aurally. It certainly intrigued me, then, that his latest project is headed in general Oscar trajectory, particularly given the brutal tone he set up with Hunger and Shame.
So I’m not totally surprised that the first trailer for 12 Years a Slave is playing to a very broad appeal. The first conversations that broke out from it were what music was used in the trailer. For the record, it’s Inception, then The Wolfman, then The Thin Red Line through to the finish, so a lot of Hans Zimmer. It’s fitting for the fact that Zimmer’s scoring the film, though I imagine they’re withholding his actual score for the film till after it’s (probably) released at Venice, Toronto or Telluride.
I wouldn’t necessarily take this trailer at its word, since it paints things far more simply than McQueen’s structurally complex films usually play. What we can tell for sure is that Chiwetel Ejiofor will have plenty to work with in the lead role of Solomon Northrup, who’s abducted into slavery from his free life in New York. Even more evident a standout is Michael Fassbender, who’s going far nastier and less forgivable than his last two performances for McQueen, here playing a ruthless plantation owner.
The trailer plays up the film’s epic canvas, larger than anything McQueen’s worked with before. I imagine there’s greater brutality in the film than a trailer can show, but we’re certainly intrigued, if not quite hooked. I’d usually hesitate playing up the film’s Oscar chances, but if Django Unchained can get a pass, I see no reason McQueen can’t break in there as well. Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress (for Nyongo?), Cinematography, Production Design, and Original Score are all likely candidates. We’ll just have to wait till its festival debut to know for sure. Fox Searchlight is releasing the film on October 18th. Check out the trailer yourself here, and then come back and discuss it.