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'12 Years a Slave' intimate, powerful

When it rains, it pours. For the second time in as many months, no new movie opened at the Mall 8 Cinema this past weekend. I happened to be traveling Saturday and was able to see "12 Years a Slave," which, unfortunately, did not come to Hays.

First of all, this is an easy and emphatic recommendation to make. Since the normal turnaround time for new movies to be released on DVD is two to three months, this film should be available before winter has run its course.

"12 Years a Slave" tells the tragically true story of Solomon Northrup -- a free African-American man living in New York State who is kidnaped and sold into slavery on a plantation in Louisiana. To say the film is powerful -- and difficult to watch, at times -- is an understatement. Films with a message as powerful as this one often stop feeling cinematic. For example, I really have no idea why I own a copy of "Schindler's List." It's one of the most heart-wrenching films ever made, and I never want to watch it again. "12 Years a Slave" strikes a better balance between the power of the message and the inherent lightness of the medium, even if it does cost the film points on the "greatness" scale.

Chiwetel Ejiofor, who played the nameless villain in 2005's "Serenity," leads an all-star cast of dramatic heavyweights including Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt and Paul Giamatti. I wouldn't be surprised if next year's Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor categories at the Academy Awards are heavily laden with the names listed above.

For me, at least, and I imagine I'm not alone, it's easy to see history in black and white instead of shades of grey. "12 Years a Slave" does an admirable job of blurring the lines between good and evil, North and South, and freedom and slavery. When the DVD comes out in a few months, I would recommend renting "12 Years a Slave" -- it's a very intimate look into our history that doesn't focus on the war, or the abomination that was slavery, but rather on the heart of a man who endured it.

5 of 6 stars

James Gerstner works at Fort Hays State University Foundation. james.gerstner@gmail.com