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New on DVD: ‘12 Years a Slave’

Posted 12:00am on Tuesday, Mar. 04, 2014

DVD 12 Years a Slave : There are many scenes in 12 Years a Slave, director Steve McQueen’s exquisitely rendered take on a true story of one man’s struggle with “the peculiar institution,” that sear themselves into the mind. But there’s one that’s especially haunting. Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man in pre-Civil War upstate New York who has been abducted and sold into slavery in the South, is being punished for turning the whip on one of his overseers (Paul Dano). He is hanged from a tree but, because his toes just barely touch the ground, he doesn’t die but dangles there, his tortured breathing the only soundtrack.

It’s an emotionally devastating scene, made all the more powerful by the way McQueen (the movies Shame and Hunger) shoots it. There’s no music, and it lingers for what seems like forever, conveying the feeling of looking at a particularly powerful painting. (That’s not at all surprising considering McQueen came to filmmaking from visual arts.) But the much talked-about movie is more than a beautifully shot art piece. It’s history made violently real. Unlike last year’s movie about slavery, Quentin Tarantino’s boisterous but bankrupt Django Unchained, 12 Years a Slave feels uncomfortably authentic. On DVD and Blu-ray.

Also new: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Friday) ; The Grandmaster; Hours; Girl Rising; Oldboy; The Last Days on Mars; Free Fall; Reportero

— Cary Darling

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