What follows is a persistently brutal and repeatedly shocking saga. After being imprisoned and shipped south by steamboat, Solomon is sold off by an utterly merciless slave trader named Freeman (Paul Giamatti). He's bought by Mr. Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), a "decent man," by Solomon's estimation, who gives a violin to Solomon-or Pratt, as he is renamed. When Ford does so, though, he says benevolently, "I hope it brings us both much joy over the years." To our ears and surely to Solomon's, it almost sounds like a death sentence.