User Score
8.0

Generally favorable reviews- based on 742 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Negative: 75 out of 742

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  1. Oct 23, 2013
    2
    Well, here comes the biggest Oscar-fisher of the year. A totally unnecessary film with every star they could have possibly packed in there for exactly that purpose does nothing special with its characters or its plot (pun unintended). It's kind of entertaining, sure, but not in a way that makes you want to watch it again. It's just kind of there and a tad formulaic. It even feels a bit exploitative (it's a film about life in slavery with an astonishing number of recognizable names in it, but no one who really *fits* into the role. "Dirty Pretty Things" portrayed a few similar themes *FAR* better, and the protagonist was even likable. Can we ever get a slavery-victim role that portrays a realistic human, and not just stereotypes of what we were taught in elementary school?) in its portrayal of the time period, and takes the "drama" genre to the breaking point. Expand
  2. Nov 3, 2013
    2
    Beyond the intriguing premise (a man is kidnapped into slavery) this movie goes nowhere. Brutal, repetitive, and pointless. What is the subtext? What is the message? Slavery was bad? No character development, no plot development. Just one graphic depiction of cruelty after another. Brad Pitt's accent is ridiculous.

    Compare this movie to Schindler's List or even Roots and it
    pales in comparison.

    Skip "Twelve Years A Slave" and save yourself an extremely unpleasant 2 hours.
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  3. Nov 4, 2013
    1
    Only went to see movie cause wife wanted to. So many stereotypes, excessive brutality and sadism without sufficient redeeming purpose. It's a significant story historically but uncreative, humdrum approach to the subject. Acting of main character is excellent but even then it doesn't feel true feels like a movie made for some "noble" purpose. I prefer Django Unchained because at least it doesn't try to pretend to be something it isn't. Expand
  4. Nov 1, 2013
    4
    In "12 Years A Slave" there is a scene between Platt/Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Patsy (Lupita Nyong'o that is startling, stark and will have your emotions all over the place. It is one of the very few scenes that delivers all the hype that the movie has promised. All in all I found the movie very disappointing and realize that I am a minority having this opinion.

    There were
    many scenes that director Steve McQueen holds 3-4 beats, if not 1-2 minutes, such as the 'song' by Tibeats (Paul Dano), too long and some photograph like frames, mostly of nature scenes, that combine to make the movie seem excessive diluting those times it should have moved quicker. Moving back and forth in time, instead of telling the story in a straight line, doesn't add anything and with repeating scenes, once again, elongates the story that would have been stronger if shorter.

    The acting is certainly first rate though Michael Fassbender should be getting a lot more attention for his role as plantation/slave owner Edwin Epps, frightening in his drunken evilness. As Platt/Solomon, the freeman, who is kidnapped and sent to the south as a slave, Ejiofer carries the burden of the film as a victim who refuses to be one though at times he seems to be too passive as an actor, not a slave, for how he overcomes all that is thrown at him.

    The rest of the cast, mostly cameos by Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti, Sarah Paulson and Alfre Woodard are effective though when Brad Pitt appears it takes you out of the movie because it is Brad Pitt.

    There is nudity, none gratuitous, violence and cruelty, though except for the scene mentioned in the first paragraph and an attempted lynching scene of Northup, very little of it hit me emotionally

    Based on a true story about, and book written by, Northup and the publicity he received it is questionable that how and/or where he died is unknown.

    Comes award time the movie and actors will be up for many awards but the bottom line for me is that I won't recommend it.
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  5. Nov 3, 2013
    3
    This film is purely exploitative, made to take advantage of people's emotions by reminding them of a terrible and tragic time in history. But as I took a look back and thought of this film objectively, I stand by this opinion. Absolutely dreadful acting by a good majority of the cast; even worse the cast was filled with stars so the acting should have been top notch. The overall development of the plot was terrible. It felt as if they just wanted drama for the sake of drama. Almost every scene had dramatic sequences amplified so much, to the point where I couldn't think of an even worse synonym for the phrase 'absolute horror'. And yes, they did have a few rather convincing and emotional parts, however, nearly all of the film was so unintelligible and lacking of any credibility, that those few parts become distant memories linked to ideas of what the film COULD have been. The real drama was what my eyes had to endure. It pretty much sealed my opinion of Steve McQueen; a highly overrated director that shouldn't have even attempted to do a film like this. Expand
  6. Dec 25, 2013
    1
    For such charged subject matter, this film is a snooze. The script is laughably eloquent and unbelievable, the direction is plodding and slow paced, the acting (with the exception of Lupita Nyongo as Patsey) is adequate at best. The movie needs about 30 minutes edited out of it to be watchable, for that matter the editing itself is unskilled and sophomoric. Don't even get me started on the overblown soundtrack. This film shouldn't even be nominated for a best film or best actor or best director Oscar. But it will be, because everyone would be afraid not to vote for it since it deals with slavery and just like the Holocaust a film about this subject will be revered whether it's good or not. I think Steve McQueen might very well be the most overrated director today. Boooooring! Expand
  7. Feb 21, 2014
    0
    the movie message is slavery is bad. For two hours it hammers that message with a sledge hammer till the head ache from all of the excess noise in form of superb but ultimately useless star appearance, needless violence and sexual abuse is unbearable.
    It all has been done before and better. complete misuse of excellent cast.
  8. Dec 27, 2013
    1
    Everything you already knew about slavery but didn't bother to ask because you already knew it. Cliche riddled, melodramatic and devoid of subtlety. On the plus side it is well shot.
  9. May 3, 2014
    0
    Awful movie. Poor character development. Flat, dull, uninteresting storyline with awful timing. This movie is very much like Passion of the Christ in exploiting an audience with brutality and guilt but with slavery as the theme rather than the crucifixion. All this movie had going for it was a large cast of big names and names aren't enough to make a movie good.
  10. Nov 8, 2013
    4
    Steve McQueen really didn't show a side to slavery that I had not seen represented before. Many of the scenes played like historical reenactments for the History Channel. Some of the performances were so terrible it was like they shot the rehearsal. Filmically, McQueen relies on the same devices as the directors of torture porn to generate tension. If you like melodrama with a side of gristle, this is your movie. If you want something with a lot more depth and originality, look elsewhere. Expand
  11. Jan 14, 2014
    2
    12 minutes into the movie (no pun intended) and I already knew I would be bored. A star studded movie that is not the least bit entertaining. After an hour I gave up and realise that the only reason this movie is alive is because of some exemplary acting.
  12. Jan 25, 2014
    2
    This movie is just torture porn masking as art. It asks no questions and really doesn't make any social comment. All it does is elaborately illustrate the human capacity for cruelty, ignorance and sadism - but from the safe vantage point of a couple of centuries' distance from the cruelty's context. Zero Dark Thirty asked a question: what if we had spent all that money, effort and talent on, say, decreasing our dependence on foreign oil, rather than a single manhunt? Prisoners asked a question: even if torture seems the only option, what can it do to us if we use it? Even Her asks questions, about our relationships to machines and each other. 12 Years A Slave simply pushes our fear buttons. All of us have an engine in us of past injustices that we can draw on at a moment's notice. 12 Years just puts gas in that tank. If you're going to make a movie that simply says "this is an atrocity," than why not make it about one occurring on our planet right now, that we can possibly still do something about? Because that would be taking sides, and would make some people uncomfortable. There is a form of entertainment where useless righteous indignation is stoked for its own sake. For that to work we must all be in agreement. Nazis, child molesters and slave owners. Those are the only boogeymen we can all still agree on. Think about the movies getting the most praise at award's season. Two of them deal with historical accounts of racism. Three if you count the Mandela biopic. Mud is a much better film than Dallas Buyer's Club, but Dallas Buyer's Club depicts (without saying anything new about) homophobia, decade's old misconceptions about AIDS and a bit of Big Bad Drug Industry for good measure. Plus McConnaughey lost weight for the role. So that's what gets the attention. One is more gentle and thought provoking. One triggers our fear. So that's the "issue" movie. Even Philomena takes a swipe at the catholic church's cruelty masking as piety (again, using the vehicle of a many decade's old instance of systematic abuse).

    Anyway, 12 Years made me very uncomfortable. But not morally uncomfortable. Just uncomfortable at the sense the director was getting off on all that CGI blood spatter and whipping and hanging scenes that carry on far longer than needed to make their point. Points for nice cinematography. Hans Zimmer essentially reprises one of his themes from Inception in the score. Ejiofor is perfect. Brad Pitt is tone deaf as ever, but he produced the thing so...
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  13. Jan 31, 2014
    1
    Once again Hollywood waves its sanctimonious wand over history with this glossy movie about slavery in the United States. Like a self-righteous teetotaler telling off an alcoholic, it is a sentimental, holier-than-thou piece that challenges you to criticize it or ´you’re a racist too´. Following in the footsteps of Django it uses the excuse of history and a worthy theme to justify gratuitous scenes of violence.

    The film begins in the home of the central character, Solomon Northop, a free black man, who lives a genteel life with his family in New York. The director is clearly eager to get to the gory bits though, and within the first ten minutes Solomon has been kidnapped, enslaved, and the audience is cringing under a close up of his contorted face during a twenty minute whipping scene; the first of many to come.

    The film continues in this vein, as we follow Solomon’s journey through an array of increasingly evil slave-owners. There is a segregation of personality in the film, with most of the black characters being good and moral and the white ones evil. Surely it is as patronizing and insulting to assume personality is dependent on colour as it is politically correct. At least the same cannot be said of gender, the white women are as evil as their male counterparts. However no film about slavery is complete without our token good white guy, and Brad Pitts rises to the occasion, strolling in bearded and ready to play, once again, the hero.

    One does wonder why Solomon doesn´t send a letter under his ´mistress´name on one of his frequent forays to the shop. (Of course, his one attempt to run away is thwarted when after two steps he stumbles on a lynching scene). Perhaps the point the director is trying to make is that Solomon is too broken and scared to do this. He is too proud, however, to pick the cotton quota demanded by the sadistic slave-owner. A necessary contradiction perhaps, as this allows more whipping scenes as he is punished daily.

    Or why, instead of trying and failing to write a letter with a blunt bamboo stick and watery juice, he doesn´t simply use the candle end and stain the paper instead. But it is not a film for the details. Nor the historical overview.

    It is two hours of increasing brutality, culminating with a horrendous scene where one girl is whipped until her flesh is exposed. Instead of taking one of the many examples of modern day slavery however, which could leave people feeling guilty at inaction, it is set far enough in the past that it allows the audience to do their cinema time, and leave feeling as worthy and sanctimonious as the director.
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  14. May 24, 2014
    4
    There is maybe one or two scenes that showcase the real artistic strength of this movie, but for the most part, it puts me to sleep. The dialogue is outrageously unrealistic.The definition of an over hyped film.
  15. Apr 6, 2014
    3
    From all the good movies of 2013 that I have seen, I have a trouble to find a worse one.
    I understand how important this subject is, especially in the US, but there are other ways to popularize the abolitionism than giving the best picture prize to a mediocre movie. But maybe it's a best mean to bring an idea to the popcorn-fed audience.

    The story starts good, but later the potential
    is wasted. The movie is surprisingly shallow and predictable. Almost all tense moments are brutal scenes. And an overdose of scenes when the camera shows nothing but people starring somewhere(which I guess were meant to provoke some reflections) is just annoying.

    If there was a category "the most politically important subject", maybe this movie could take a prize, but the best picture? This is wrong, and the academy has lost once and for all its credibility. Not to mention the prize for the best actress in the supporting role.
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  16. Feb 12, 2014
    2
    Another soon-to-be Oscar winner that is a glossed over representation of actual events in history, this film felt like it took 12 years to get through. Do yourself a favour and go see Saving Mr. Banks instead.
  17. Jan 28, 2014
    2
    The film was weak (except for the brutal whipping scene) and not worth my cinema fee. I felt it was more likened to something made for TV rather than a movie. The TV Roots" saga was much more impressive and the acting was better too. To be honest..... I was rather bored
  18. Apr 6, 2014
    3
    Well I expected it to be depressing but how many movies about slavery do we need? Plus there are so many moments where the main character is shown in deep thought and anguish... Yes we get the point he's traumatized but those moments drag on and on. It was tedious, a downer, and way too long.
  19. Jun 24, 2014
    1
    This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. Isn't it ridiculous that our society went so far to be politically correct that it crossed the line of common sense? If you don't give an Oscar to a film that is about slavery - you are a racist, if you say something positive about Palestine or Iran - you are anti-Semite, if you give a preference to a Caucasian over African American in the U.S. (based on the skills!) - you are a racist again. if you smile to a woman - you are sexually harassing her (wait, gay harassment is coming, so you won't be allows to smile or make jokes to anyone!).

    Look at all the Critic reviews - nearly EVERYONE gave 100%! This just makes them look ridiculous, as they are afraid to even slightly critisize and not to LOVE a movie about slavery.

    The story plot is quite simple: a free black man is sold to slavery and is later saved. But instead of making the movie multi-dimensional, deep and engaging, the story-tellers "communicate" the story through brutality and violence, as if someone on the face of the earth needs a proof that slavery was bad, and as if slaves were used nearly only as punching bags by sadistic white people.

    Seriously, ask yourself: how many times can you re-watch this film? Will you be enjoying it after re-watching? How many times will you be re-watching it? There were several worthy movies nominated for Oscar this year (e.g. The Wolf of Wall Street or even Captain Phillips), but, no, lets be politically correct and to avoid being labeled racist, lets give the Best Picture to a mediocre film about slavery.
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  20. Mar 3, 2014
    1
    This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. Boring movie. (YAWN) I don't know how the one chick won an oscar when she was barely on screen for not even a full 20 minutes. This movie made me wanna punch everyone and where in hell did Brad Pitt come from??? 1/2 before the movie is over he just shows up. Too many scenes where we see dude, staring at who knows what, for way to long. There are better movies about slavery out there. This is not one of them. I don't understand what all the hype is all about. All I know is that I want my minutes back that I wasted on watching this boring film. Expand
  21. Jan 16, 2014
    2
    If you have read Uncle Tom's Cabin you know this story though seeing the sadistic cruelty inherent in slavery displayed, and endlessly repeated, on the big screen will be new to you. And that seems to be the point of the movie, according to this British director and mainly British cast. Its a grim movie. Not one that many people will want to see twice. It says nothing new about the subject of slavery and it adds nothing that people who have read about slavery didn't already know. Nice photography though. Expand
  22. Feb 27, 2014
    2
    This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. Boy was I dissapointed with this movie! Plain and simple, boring, 45 minutes too long, character buildup was non-existant, I could care less about these robotic, non emational slaves, did they speak English?Nothing new, been said before with roots, Color Purple wallups this turd in every way!
    Save yourself the money, would not watch this one again,, and no,, it's not because of the hanging or whipping scenes, just does't even come close to living up to the hype.....
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  23. Apr 1, 2014
    2
    this movie was so boring as compared to all the hyping....I had to watch d movie a all day cus i was'nt felling d movie, i just wanted to b sure i finished d movie, although chiwetel was good.....
  24. Feb 16, 2014
    4
    The most overrated movie of 2013. The movie shows you the psychological horror of slavery with the protagonist not really taking a part in anything. There is no lesson to be learned here, just showing how horrible things were for African Americans at the time. Feels very forced and tedious, and five minutes in it you will know exactly what's gonna happen. Unimaginative or creative at all. A journey of pain and it's done. Expand
  25. Jul 4, 2014
    4
    All dramas need a conflict and a resolution (Resolution doesn't have to be final, it can be a setup for a new conflict). After "12 Years a Slave" has set up a conflict, it just is. And the worst part of it is that it actually has no resolution - the ending is a lousy cheat. It feels like Steve McQueen has forgotten the differences between a drama and a documentary. Shame.
  26. Sep 25, 2014
    0
    This is the most boring film I have seen in many years. Too loud a soundtrack, poor and indistinct diction, no story line, wooden acting, and filled with unnecessarily graphic violence. The film appears to have been made purely to shock the audience, whereas this viewer simply found the whole film a waste of time, and wishing he was anywhere but in the cinema. Not an experience I would wish to repeat. Expand
Metascore
97

Universal acclaim - based on 48 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 47 out of 48
  2. Negative: 0 out of 48
  1. Reviewed by: Emma Dibdin
    Jan 14, 2014
    80
    Visceral, vital and anchored by its earnest performances, this is a potent portrait of a shameful historical truth.
  2. Reviewed by: Ian Freer
    Jan 6, 2014
    80
    Falling between the twin pillars of the art house and prestige period flick, 12 Years A Slave is history lesson as horror film, powerful, visceral and affecting. And after years of being great in everything, Chiwetel Ejiofor shines in a lead worthy of his immense talent.
  3. Reviewed by: Steve Persall
    Nov 7, 2013
    100
    There has never been a movie like 12 Years a Slave, which is Hollywood's shame. Miss it, and that mistake is yours.