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

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Generally favorable reviews- based on 742 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
    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
    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
    It's Ejiofor's extraordinary performance that holds 12 Years a Slave together.
  4. Reviewed by: Liam Lacey
    Oct 17, 2013
    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
    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
    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
    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: 26 out of 180
  1. Feb 19, 2014
    The film 12 Years a Slave is a modern day masterpiece. Reasons include:
    - superbly acted
    - exquisitely written
    - beautifully shot
    masterfully directed
    This movie is the total package. I highly recommend seeing it.
  2. Jan 21, 2014
    There is very little I can say about this film that hasn't already been said: The acting is easily the best of this year, maybe even of the last decade, the story is effectively gut & heart-wrenching, and Steven McQueen brings just the right amount of visual panache and gritty realism to do the story justice. I cried. I cried every time I saw it.

    It's about time American cinema stopped being afraid of our history with Slavery. And while that description isn't perfect (Steve McQueen is british, after all), it definitely signals a HUGE step in the right direction. There are demons everywhere, and this film is unafraid to throw its main character into the heart of darkness Northup actually experienced.

    It may be hard to stomach at times, but every American (at least) should see this movie. It is a masterpiece.
  3. Oct 18, 2013
    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. Expand
  4. Mar 20, 2014
    The film's raw textures and brutal imagery fit McQueen's proverbial bill; the only thing more transcendent than the film's story are the acting performances that make it so much more hard-hitting. It's not for the faint of heart, and it wastes very little time getting into detail. If you are familiar with McQueen's other outings, you can imagine that a historical film about slavery won't be all peaches and cream, which some people (clearly) have a hard time digesting. And that's okay, but this is a responsible, balanced film that deserves anyone and everyone's due diligence to view it from the perspective of a historian and not a critic. The statement it makes is going to be there - no matter what - for a movie about slavery. Instead of getting hung up on this notion, immerse yourself in the film and give it every last bit of attention you can give; it's not worth wasting your time otherwise. Expand
  5. May 25, 2014
    12 Years a Slave was just astounding im at a loss for words of how great of a film this is. Steve McQueen blew me away with this film and if i had seen this in 2013 no doubt would it had been hard to choose between this and Gravity. Luckally i don't have to pick and that 12 Years a Slave has the best chance to be the best movie in 2014.

    Solomon Northup is a well educated free black man that lives in Saratoga, New York with his family. While his family is off on a trip he decides to work for these people claiming to work for the circus he has dinner with the two men then starts to get sick they help him to his room as he is passing out. He wakes up after being drugged and is told he is now a slave heading to the south.

    He ends up being sold to a man named Ford (Cumberbatch) a small mill owner. Ford takes a liking to Solomon but soon has to sell him to Edwin Epps(Fassbender) a crual and ruthless man so he can pay off his debt. Years go by and we see Solomon trying to survive but with each day and with everything he sees it get's harder harder for him to go on. Plan after plan of his keeps failing and he starts to think he may never go home.

    The movie is so powerful and the unbelievable acting of Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender make this film a much watch for everyone I guess for some though it can be hard to watch at times. The cinematography from Steve McQueen was amazing and the Score from Hans Zimmer was breathtaking

    Overall i give it a 8.0
  6. Feb 25, 2014
    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. Sep 25, 2014
    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

See all 180 User Reviews


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