Saturday, 18 January 2014

Best Supporting Actor 2013: Michael Fassbender in 12 Years a Slave

Michael Fassbender received his first Oscar nomination for portraying Edwin Epps in 12 Years a Slave.

This film marks Michael Fassbender's third collaboration with director Steve McQueen, although it is first time he is in a supporting role, and the first time that he has found himself Oscar nominated for his performance. Fassbender plays Edwin Epps the second owner of the kidnapped former freeman Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Where Solomon's first owner William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) showed at least signs of being a decent man, there is no such luxury when it comes to Edwin Epps the cotton plantation owner. In our first glimpse of Epps we see him reading scripture and claiming that the passage gives him the absolute right to whip any of his slaves if they do not serve him as he sees fit.

Plantation owners tend to be portrayed a certain way usually as the southern gentleman who wishes to be charming but is truly a brute, that is the way Leonardo DiCaprio played such a man in Django Unchained for example. Micheal Fassbender takes a completely different route in his portrayal of Edwin Epps who is anything but charming. Epps, in terms of the writing, is not an extremely complicated man. It is very easy to see how he could have easily been portrayed as an one note brute who just goes from one terrible act to another. Fassbender avoids such a path in his depiction of Epps. Fassbender attempts to find a little more to the man when he has a chance, but as well gives a very interesting portrayal of the man's actions throughout the film.

As is usually the case for Fassbender, this is a very physical performance, and Fassbender does a great deal to create Epps through his movements. Fassbender doesn't make Epps a gentleman, but instead often presents him to be man-child. This is especially well shown in the way he interacts with the slaves from moment to moment. Fassbender never looks at them really in the eyes nor does he position himself in a man to man fashion. Fassbender instead always plays it as Epps is constantly looking down them as if they were animals rather than people. Fassbender goes even further with this point in the way he speaks, and will be even strangely casual, like when he leads on one slaves head. Fassbender shows that Epps does not just say they are his property, he believes it.

One of the qualities behind the man that Fassbender suggests is that his slaves have made him a truly idle man. Fassbender is pretty brilliant in how he shows Epps to be just one lazy man. Fassbender often has him lying around watching everyone else do the work, there is often a sense of malaise in the man. Fassbender rightly is not always the barking monster as working with the slaves is a day to day life style for him, to always be a villain would just be too much effort. Fassbender realizes the results of a man with too much power over others by portraying how the man himself has been formed. The one scene Fassbender plays as Epps absolutely invested is the cotton counting, which makes perfect sense as Epps definitely cares about his money.

There is of course Epps's relationship with his slave Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o) who he constantly praises, rapes, and even states that he prefers her over his wife (Sarah Paulson). Fassbender again derives the complexities of Epps's treatment of her. Fassbender portrays it in the cotton counting as almost a man priding over his best horse. When he rapes her though Fassbender does not just show it to be lust, although there is plenty of that to go around, there is a conflict in him. Fassbender gives a sense that Epps loves her, but fights within himself as he does completely see slaves as his property. Fassbender makes sense of his disjointed behavior as he is man who fights within himself as he can't quite comprehend exactly how to handle his situation.

Now past all that, the part he is most there to fulfill is to be the personification of the brutality of slavery. Fassbender is brilliant here because he actually shows the day to day of the everyday slaver. Epps dishes out whippings on a daily bases, and Fassbender shows it as just business as usual. Fassbender makes the daily routine in the way changes from scene to scene in a way one would expect from a man who really does not know what to do with himself, and in all truth is very immature. Fassbender, through this unpredictability, makes the threat of Epps all the greater. Fassbender is terrific in his drunken moments as he bluntly makes Epps a bad drunk. Fassbender becomes a slob who basically trips on himself, but a slob to be feared as might kill in such a daze.

There is one particular chilling moment where he interrogates Solomon. Fassbender plays Epps as a calm and controlled here, as the situation does technically involve money again. Fassbender builds the tension well by keeping Epps again so very casual in his style as he talks to Solomon in almost a slightly warm fashion, yet oh so well conveying that murderous hint in the man. This is very different from his inebriated scenes but Fassbender connects the pieces properly and makes every behavior natural to his Epps. This includes even one brief moment where Epps is about to whip Patsey. Fassbender is incredible in just one moment expressing that conflict in the man. It is a striking moment as Fassbender does give Epps the tiniest hint of humanity. Fassbender gives it a real power though by bringing such an intensity as Epps must force himself to believe his philosophy to get over his moment of hesitation.

Michael Fassbender's work here is being taken for granted I think. Edwin Epps technically just needed to be a vicious character who just acts vicious for awhile until he exits the film. Fassbender certainly does that with a great ferocity as he does not hold back making it to the point of Epps's inherited mentality. Fassbender though goes further with his performance though. Fassbender depicts Epps as an evil man, and there is no question about that, but he actually in part alludes to where some of this comes from within him. His Epps is not just brutal because he's a bad man, although I must stress again that is definitely true, but he is a bad man who's behavior comes in part from environment that has taught him and turned him a certain way. Fassbender's performance is tremendous as he realizes the slave owner for all that he is, and turn makes this great film all the stronger.

42 comments:

Michael McCarthy said...

Figured this'd be a 5. Louis, were there any other supporting actor (or actress) performances in this film that really stood out for you in any way?

ClarenceRocky said...

What did you think of Cumberbatch, Louis?

Anonymous said...

Louis , not to get polictical but are you a Democrat or Republican?

luke higham said...

Yes!!!!!!!!!

3 out of 3 for fassbender & Mcqueen

luke higham said...

As I said before, the most under appreciated performance of the year.

luke higham said...

Louis: Other than the acting, What were your thoughts on the directing, writing & other technical aspects of it

luke higham said...

Louis: In your personal opinion, what is the best performance of Michael Fassbender's Career so far.

RatedRStar said...

All I have to say about Fassbender is, BEST IN THE WORLD.

luke higham said...

RatedRStar: Along with Day Lewis and Oldman, they are the 3 best in the world, no matter which one you like most.

What do you think of Fassbender/Mcqueen as a collaboration

RatedRStar said...

It is great, I hope to see Fassbender nominated at least 5 or 6 more times.

luke higham said...

RatedRStar: Non-related Question: Do you watch WWE

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Jesus, LET THE MAN BREATHE! Try to ask one question at a time.

RatedRStar said...

I do sometimes =) Best In The World was a give away wasnt it lol.

luke higham said...

RatedRStar: Love Punk & Bryan, Fuck Cena & Orton

Haven't watched it regularly since the beginning of Autumn.

RatedRStar said...

Ye I dont have time for it now, im usually watching movies or playing video games nowadays, the only tv show I watch is Sherlock but now thats finished so lol.

luke higham said...

Koook160: Louis or RatedRStar can take all the time they need to answer. I can wait.

Louis Morgan said...

Michael: I rather liked Paulson devilish turn, and some of the smaller roles like the two men on the boat and Garret Dillahunt.

Clarence: I think he was good, but he was very limited by his screen time.

Anonymous: I try to keep myself apolitical on here, and I wouldn't want to change that.

Luke: The production design, costumes, and Cinematography are all excellent. McQueen direction is great as well, and I love that he allowed the story to flow this time. The writing is very solid as well.

I think this is Fassbender's best performance actually.

luke higham said...

Louis: I watched his performance again and is now my number one favourite performance of his.

luke higham said...

Louis: what did you think of Giamatti's brief appearance.

Louis Morgan said...

He was good, even if his accent was John Adams slaver, I think the film could have spent a bit more time with the character.

luke higham said...

Louis: who're you reviewing next.

Louis Morgan said...

Abdi

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Oh good, I loved Abdi's work. I'm considering giving him my win for the year.

luke higham said...

Louis: What are your thoughts on Fassbender playing as Macbeth this year.

Psifonian said...

I thought Fassbender was really good, but you know what? I think Dano was better. Much more visceral and memorable.

Michael McCarthy said...

Eh, there really wasn't much to Dano's character from what I saw. He played it every bit as well as he needed to though so I give him credit for that.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke: I'm very interested in it, as I have yet to see a truly remarkable portrayal of Macbeth in a traditional fashion, and I think Fassbender is a good fit for the role. I have not seen any version that comes close to Throne of Blood, or any Macbeth that comes close to Mifune's performance, but I would love to see someone try.

RatedRStar said...

I think Paul Dano is usually a terrible actor, with little to no personality, I show more personality in my messages than Dano does full stop.

luke higham said...

Has anyone ever tried to watch Caligula from 1979

Matt Mustin said...

RatedRStar: I hate Paul Dano as well, although I thought he was quite good in Prisoners.

luke higham said...

Louis: what rating would you give Eddie Redmayne in Les Miserables.

Louis Morgan said...

I would give him a 4.

Matt Mustin said...

I HAVE to ask this, what did you think of Brad Pitt's cameo?

Louis Morgan said...

The first time I watched the film I thought he was distracting but tolerable, but watching it for a second viewing I thought he was terrible. I think someone could have brought a real power to the role, some sort of contemporary Ian Charleson, but Pitt, doing his Aldo Raine voice for whatever reason, took the wrong direction with his performance.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

My reaction; He was CANADIAN?!

Matt Mustin said...

Louis, what would be your choices for Original and Adapted Screenplay?

Louis Morgan said...

Out of the nominees:

Original: Dallas Buyers Club (Still need to see Her and Nebraska)

Adapted: The Wolf of Wall Street

Allen said...

I thought Fassbender was absolutely terrifying. I have a hard time myself figuring out if I prefer Fassy or Leto but it breaks my heart that it's been a one-man race this entire season.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I have to admit, I'm not AS big on Fassbender as I was back when I saw him in October. I still REALLY like his performance, but I'm not sure if he's in my top 5 anymore. (Harrison Ford still is. God help me.)

RatedRStar said...

I have a feeling the reason the battle between Leto and Fassbender isnt closer is probably because Fassbender said he had no intention of going to the Oscar ceremony, im pretty sure most critics dont like that sort of thing.

joe burns said...

FANTASTIC REVIEW!! It makes me want to go back and see him. I thought he was great, but the whole movie was so hard to watch that it made me not notice all of the details like I usually do for others. I think he'll get your vote here.

Louis Morgan said...

Thanks Joe.