Leonardo Dicaprio's work in Django Unchained now looks showy, over-the-top, and plain ridiculous when compared to what Michael Fassbender does in the film. He is a ruthless slave master, one not enamored by Mandingo slave fighting, but more interested in basic brutality. The slave girl of Fassbender's interest is played by newcomer Lupita Nyong' o, and she is also terrific, in the way that we want her to triumph just as much as Northup.
The script by John Ridley is perfect. It is a work of modern Shakespeare, speaking an English language that has been dead for a century. It is not only intelligent, but it's easily accessible and understandable. Like with Shame, McQueen directs with strong style while utilizing the substance of the material very well. McQueen's direction is beautiful, I personally could not keep my eyes off the screen.
If I were to fault the film for anything, it would be that it felt both too long and too short. The brutalities of Northup felt repetitive and tedious, but also shallow when we (the audience) were only getting a small glimpse of what was happening. The story of Northup might've worked better as a miniseries, or a movie with 20 minutes shaved off. Still, no matter the pace, this is a filmmaking experience with so much done right, it is hard not to fall head over heels for 12 Years a Slave.