12 Years a Slave Image
Metascore
97

Universal acclaim - based on 48 Critics What's this?

User Score
8.0

Generally favorable reviews- based on 710 Ratings

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Score distribution:
  1. Positive: 47 out of 48
  2. Negative: 0 out of 48
  1. Reviewed by: Tim Robey
    Sep 14, 2013
    100
    Elicits from McQueen a directing job that's compellingly humble but also majestic, because his radical showmanship is turned to such precise, human purposes.
  2. 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.
  3. Reviewed by: Owen Gleiberman
    Oct 16, 2013
    100
    It's Ejiofor's extraordinary performance that holds 12 Years a Slave together.
  4. Reviewed by: Liam Lacey
    Oct 17, 2013
    100
    Far from the push-button catharsis offered by most Hollywood redemption tales, the work is sober and deliberate, a mix of visceral intensity and artful design.
  5. Reviewed by: Steve Davis
    Oct 31, 2013
    100
    Brutal yet elegant, 12 Years a Slave is a beautifully rendered punch to the gut about the most shameful chapter in American history.
  6. Reviewed by: Dana Stevens
    Oct 17, 2013
    90
    It’s the unhappiest happy ending I’ve ever seen, a moment that makes you weep not just for this one man who found his way back to freedom, but for all those men and women who never knew it in the first place.
  7. Reviewed by: Ed Gonzalez
    Sep 13, 2013
    50
    Steve McQueen's film practically treats Solomon Norhtup as passive observer to a litany of horrors that exist primarily for our own education.

See all 48 Critic Reviews

Score distribution:
  1. Negative: 25 out of 174
  1. Feb 17, 2014
    10
    Steve Mcqueen has paid a tribute to all the people in chains whose stories were lost in the dust of history. The horror of slavery has been shown in its full. Brilliant acting by all the cast. Expand
  2. Jan 22, 2014
    10
    Probably the most powerful film I've ever seen. The directing is absolutely spot on and the acting is world class. I can't really say too much about this film because I don't want to ruin it, but anyone who wants to watch it I highly recommend it. I can tell this is a film which we'll all still be talking about in 10-20 years time. Expand
  3. Oct 18, 2013
    10
    Chiwetel Ejiofor is so impressive in this incredibly intense, visceral film. (When it ended, nobody in my theater moved for a period of time, and there was no round of applause mostly, it seemed, because of the shock of it all. Clapping didn’t seem like the right thing to do.) The fact that we experience the story from the perspective of a kidnapped free man makes the film instantly relatable. I was so happy to have watched all of Tom Fontana’s excellent “Copper” which features an African American civil war veteran doctor living in New York, and all of his family’s struggles in Five Points. Solomon, a New Yorker kidnapped from Washington DC, could be any of us. The Southern landscape as it likely existed in those days provides such a beautiful-yet- eerie backdrop to this movie. What I particularly appreciate the fact that all the shots are confined you never see very far into the distance. There’s never any perspective on things. When the boat transporting the kidnapped south moves, you see the paddlewheels. On the plantations, you see the three or four acres where the slaves live. You never get any aerial shots, which is so effective in giving you a disoriented, lost feel. Even if Solomon wants to escape, he has no idea where the hell he is, and neither do we. The acting in general is uniformly excellent. Fassbender? Wow. Not since Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List has an actor put out so completely for the detestable guy role and to such great effect. Collapse
  4. Feb 20, 2014
    9
    Had to write a riposte to the handful of reviewers leaving very low scores for this movie. One man's food and all that aside, the performances, script and cinematography couldn't possibly warrant such critical reviews. One reviewer (Englishrose), sees the movie as presenting a challenge to criticise it or (sic - and) be condemned a racist, and lambasts McQueen for gratuitous violence. This misses the point. The violence is indeed brutal, and the threat of it, at least, relentless, but not without reason. It is necessary in portraying the barbaric nature of the antebellum slavery in its attempts to dehumanise a people.

    The reviewer complains that the film plunges too quickly into the risky details, but we learn enough about Solomon to establish the character pre his ordeal. Condensing twelve years of slavery into a couple of hours requires keen editing. Besides, the reviewer's sense of time is a bit dubious in remembering a beating scene as twenty minutes long, which was in fact only several minutes.

    The director is censured by these reviewers for its oversimplified depiction of of white men as evil and black as good, but the reality is far more complex. The story is not so much a collective disparaging of white people as a sobering tale of the cruelty all people are capable of when the law approbates their behaviour.

    There are questions as to why Solomon doesn't attempt an earlier escape, but these simply aren't grounded in reality. When the likelyhood of successful emancipation is so small and the punishments for failed attempts so horrific, it does not take a great leap of imagination to see why so few slaves/captives make a genuine bid for freedom.

    The film will no doubt leave viewers with different feelings, but sanctimoniousness is unlikely to be one of them.
    Expand
  5. Mar 19, 2014
    8
    It's a painful, two-hour punch in the gut. You won't enjoy it but you have to see it. As a work of art it deserves a full 10; I'm giving it an 8 because, as a film, it could use a tighter story and a more compelling lead character. Expand
  6. Feb 25, 2014
    7
    Nel 1841, Solomon Northup viene rapito a New York, dove vive libero assieme alla famiglia e si guadagna da vivere suonando il violino, e viene deportato come schiavo negli Stati del sud, in crisi di manodopera per le difficoltà sulle rotte negriere dall'Africa. Per raccontarne il lungo incubo prima di ritrovare la libertà, l'inglese Steve McQueen cambia alcune coordinate del suo fare cinema e, quasi a volerlo far intendere subito, utilizza più di una parola nel titolo: si tratta di un film più corale rispetto ai precedenti, che sono dedicati allo scavo psicologico di un solo personaggio, non c’è Fassbender come protagonista assoluto e, soprattutto, la scrittura è affidata a qualcun altro. E’ difatti di John Ridley la sceneggiatura costruita sulle memorie di Northup – che sapeva leggere e scrivere, anche se fu costretto a nasconderlo nei suoi anni di schiavitù – finendo però per essere l'anello debole del lavoro: pur non essendo in nessun punto davvero piatta, la storia non sorprende davvero mai e rende meno efficace l'impatto complessivo. Impatto che, invece, beneficia dell'accuratissimo lavoro della regia sull'immagine: se McQueen conferma la sua bravura nel costruire le inquadrature filmando un profondo sud opprimente dal punto di vista fisico e psicologico (il direttore della fotografia è il fido Sean Bobbitt), il regista inglese dà il meglio di sé nella rappresentazione della fisicità umana, in perfetta continuità con le sue opere precedenti. Si tratta di corpi sofferenti, con in primo piano piaghe sulla pelle che riflettono quelle dell'anima, e di volti che non si vergognano di esprimere i sentimenti – come dice esplicitamente Eliza in una delle tante scene in cui si piange come fontane – raccontando i pensieri che stanno dentro gli sguardi. L'orrore infinito della schiavitù sta nella sgradevolezza dei personaggi interpretati, in piccole ma significative parti, da Paul Dano e Paul Giamatti, oltre che nella gelida cattiveria della signora Epps di Sarah Paulson: se pare vacillare la coscienza di Ford, il primo padrone di Solomon - Benedict Cumberbatch esce di scena troppo presto -, la ferocia del secondo, Epps, la compensa abbondantemente. Nei suoi scomodi panni, l'attore preferito di McQueen, cioè Fassbender, disegna con grande profondità il ritratto di un uomo apparentemente senza sentimenti, violento con più di una punta di sadismo e alcolizzato, rubando se non la scena quantomeno l'attenzione rispetto al resto del cast: ne è testimonianza, fra le altre, la lunga sequenza – girata senza interruzioni con la macchina da presa che segue gli attori – della fustigazione di Patsey. A tener testa a cotanta interpretazione, c’è quella di Chiwetel Ejiofor nel ruolo del protagonista: l'attore inglese, sulle prime dubbioso, coglie al meglio l'occasione della vita rendendo con efficacia prima lo spaesamento di Solomon e poi la sua determinazione a uscire dalla trappola in cui l'hanno ficcato senza piegare (troppo) la testa. Accanto a lui, si fanno ricordare in special modo due figure di donna di una tragicità se possibile crescente, ovvero l’Eliza di Adepero Oduye e la Patsey dell'esordiente Lupita Nyong’o, la cui addolorata performance le ha ben meritato la nomination all'Oscar (corrono per la statuetta anche Fassbender ed Ejiofor, oltre al film e al regista). Piccola, ma decisiva per la liberazione di Northup, è invece la parte di Brad Pitt, che però compare nella lunga lista dei produttori, a testimonianza del fatto che lo sforzo realizzativo è stato notevole per quello che, a tutti gli effetti, è un ‘filmone’: eppure, malgrado la meritoria denuncia (non va dimenticato che la schiavitù esiste ancora), la notevole partecipazione di tutti quanti, le emozioni comunque suscitate anche grazie alla colonna sonora di Hans Zimmer alternata ai canti di lavoro nelle piantagioni, ’12 anni schiavo’ fatica a colpire nel profondo. Per carità, si tratta sempre di un film che sta tra il buono e l'ottimo, ma forse il fatto che sia tutto chiaro ed esplicito rende impossibili gli angoli bui e i momenti indefiniti che congiurano perchè, ad esempio, una pellicola pur non perfetta come ‘Shame’ si piazzi nell'animo dello spettatore e cresca con il passare del tempo. Expand
  7. 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. Expand

See all 174 User Reviews

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