Hammerle on…'12 Years a Slave,' 'Thor: The Dark World' and 'All is Lost'

Robert Hammerle
November 20, 2013
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bob hammerle movie reviews12 Years a Slave

In “12 Years a Slave,” Chiwetel Ejiofor gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Solomon Northup, a married black man born in freedom in Upstate New York. It is 1841, and he awakens in chains after a drunken evening with conniving business partners. He is spirited off to a plantation in Georgia where he is sold into slavery. Humiliated and degraded beyond description, he loses all concept of reality as you watch in profound disbelief.

Based on a Northup memoir written after his return to freedom 12 years later, British director Steve McQueen gives the viewer a firsthand look at the racial degradation going on in the antebellum South. Blacks are treated like property in the same fashion as horses or cows, with the men viciously whipped while the women are forced to consent to sex or face death. McQueen unashamedly exposes the cancerous sore that haunts the United States, a country founded on the principle that all men are created equal while unashamedly embracing bigotry.

RatingsAdditionally, the movie is dominated by stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Fassbender. Cumberbatch plays Ford, a slave owner with a troubled heart who first purchased Northup. He tries to be kind and caring, but also buys a young woman while failing in the attempts to keep her young children with her. That moment is as heartbreaking as anything to appear on the screen in recent years.

Ford is forced to sell his slaves for business reasons, and Northup finds himself being owned by Edwin Epps and his wife, two people devoid of both moral principles and shame. Fassbender embraces his role as the wretched Epps, a man who will torture his slaves while then forcing them to engage in a dance for his amusement. Fassbender provides a galvanizing performance as a supremely hateful soul, and seldom will you be so captivated by someone so utterly contemptible.

Additionally, look for unforgettable performances from Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano and Brad Pitt. Giamatti plays a slave trader with the ironic name of Freeman, a man who sells human beings as if he works in a hardware store. Dano is a twisted gem, here appearing as the offensive overseer working under Ford. He loves belittling all slaves with intense glee. As for Pitt, he surfaces late in the game as a construction worker working for Epps, and it is his complete distaste for the concept of slavery that leads Northup back home.

And wait until you see the performance given by Lupita Nyong’o. Capturing the role of Patsey, a beautiful slave sexually abused and disfigured by Epps, you will share her agony at every turn. Looking at Northup’s bloodshot eyes, she begs him to kill her.

As I watched “12 Years a Slave,” I was left in despair thinking of the treatment of African-Americans across our country to this very day. As a people, we can’t possibly know who we are if we don’t know who we were. “12 Years a Slave” is that reminder.

Thor: The Dark World and All is Lost

While combining movie reviews is normally a foolish artistic enterprise, sometimes there is simply no choice. While “All Is Lost” is a title likely to reflect your feelings when you leave the theater, “Thor: The Dark World” will entertain even you cynics. It combines foolishness with a sarcastic edge, and it comes alive with a supporting cast that is a gift that keeps on giving.

I must admit that “Lost” tantalized me, as it appeared to be Robert Redford’s swan song to a brilliant career. He has always been at his best playing rebellious iconoclasts as in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969) and “Jeremiah Johnson” (1972), and this film seemed to play to his strength. Disappointingly, it begins with some hope as he is lost at sea, but everything from that point on seems to sink quicker than his boat.

RatingsSadly, you know absolutely nothing about his past, and as a result it is incredibly hard to care what happens to him. The film spans eight days as Redford’s character tries to survive, increasingly desperate and alone. You almost sense that director J.C. Chandor is telling the audience to do little more than embrace indifference.

Clearly, there have been great films about loners lost at sea. Think of Spencer Tracy in “The Old Man and the Sea” (1958) and last year’s magnificent “Life of Pi.” It made me wish that “Lost” would have put a Bengal tiger on board, as maybe the film could have been saved with the title of “Life of Redford.”

On the other hand, there is a reason why moviegoers have completely rejected critics’ dismissive reviews of the “Thor” sequel. Sure, you have Chris Hemsworth in the starring role as nature’s gift to women, as you could actually hear amusing moans in the audience when he appeared without a shirt. Yet Hemsworth’s Thor has only one love, so I’m sorry, ladies.

Nobody plays the human equivalent of God better than Anthony Hopkins, so I’m sure his role as Odin, Thor and Loki’s father, came as second nature. However, pay attention to Tom Hiddleston as Loki and Kat Dennings as Darcy Lewis, as they both have a pissy irreverence that immediately draws you to them.

Hiddleston’s Loki may be the most acerbically enchanting villain to hit the silver screen. Sure, the gifted Natalie Portman doesn’t miss a beat as Thor’s earthly lost love, but she has the grace to let Ms. Dennings, her associate, capture every scene.

In addition, Christopher Eccleston is memorable as Malekith, the ornery leader of the Dark Elves trying to take over the universe. And Stellan Skarsgard is memorable as the gifted but unfortunately insane scientist named Erik Selvig, a guy who prefers to wear only his underwear with a shirt and tie in office meetings as it helps him think more clearly.•


Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis. When he is not in the courtroom or working diligently in his Pennsylvania Street office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters watching and preparing to review the latest films. To read more of his reviews, visit The opinions expressed are those of the author.


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  1. Especially I would like to see all the republican voting patriotic good ole boys to stop and understand that the wars they have been volunteering for all along (especially the past decade at least) have not been for God & Jesus etc no far from it unless you think George Washington's face on the US dollar is god (and we know many do). When I saw the movie about Chris Kyle, I thought wow how many Hoosiers are just like this guy, out there taking orders to do the nasty on the designated bad guys, sometimes bleeding and dying, sometimes just serving and coming home to defend a system that really just views them as reliable cannon fodder. Maybe if the Christians of the red states would stop volunteering for the imperial legions and begin collecting welfare instead of working their butts off, there would be a change in attitude from the haughty professorial overlords that tell us when democracy is allowed and when it isn't. To come home from guarding the borders of the sandbox just to hear if they want the government to protect this country's borders then they are racists and bigots. Well maybe the professorial overlords should gird their own loins for war and fight their own battles in the sandbox. We can see what kind of system this really is from lawsuits like this and we can understand who it really serves. NOT US.... I mean what are all you Hoosiers waving the flag for, the right of the president to start wars of aggression to benefit the Saudis, the right of gay marriage, the right for illegal immigrants to invade our country, and the right of the ACLU to sue over displays of Baby Jesus? The right of the 1 percenters to get richer, the right of zombie banks to use taxpayer money to stay out of bankruptcy? The right of Congress to start a pissing match that could end in WWIII in Ukraine? None of that crud benefits us. We should be like the Amish. You don't have to go far from this farcical lawsuit to find the wise ones, they're in the buggies in the streets not far away....

  2. Moreover, we all know that the well heeled ACLU has a litigation strategy of outspending their adversaries. And, with the help of the legal system well trained in secularism, on top of the genuinely and admittedly secular 1st amendment, they have the strategic high ground. Maybe Christians should begin like the Amish to withdraw their services from the state and the public and become themselves a "people who shall dwell alone" and foster their own kind and let the other individuals and money interests fight it out endlessly in court. I mean, if "the people" don't see how little the state serves their interests, putting Mammon first at nearly every turn, then maybe it is time they wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe all the displays of religiosity by American poohbahs on down the decades have been a mask of piety that concealed their own materialistic inclinations. I know a lot of patriotic Christians don't like that notion but I entertain it more and more all the time.

  3. If I were a judge (and I am not just a humble citizen) I would be inclined to make a finding that there was no real controversy and dismiss them. Do we allow a lawsuit every time someone's feelings are hurt now? It's preposterous. The 1st amendment has become a sword in the hands of those who actually want to suppress religious liberty according to their own backers' conception of how it will serve their own private interests. The state has a duty of impartiality to all citizens to spend its judicial resources wisely and flush these idiotic suits over Nativity Scenes down the toilet where they belong... however as Christians we should welcome them as they are the very sort of persecution that separates the sheep from the wolves.

  4. What about the single mothers trying to protect their children from mentally abusive grandparents who hide who they truly are behind mounds and years of medication and have mentally abused their own children to the point of one being in jail and the other was on drugs. What about trying to keep those children from being subjected to the same abuse they were as a child? I can understand in the instance about the parent losing their right and the grandparent having raised the child previously! But not all circumstances grant this being OKAY! some of us parents are trying to protect our children and yes it is our God given right to make those decisions for our children as adults!! This is not just black and white and I will fight every ounce of this to get denied

  5. Mr Smith the theory of Christian persecution in Indiana has been run by the Indiana Supreme Court and soundly rejected there is no such thing according to those who rule over us. it is a thought crime to think otherwise.