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 706 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 173
  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. Expand
  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 21, 2014
    7
    Having read before I saw the film that Steve Mcqueen has won a Turner prize I could not help but view the undoubtedly stunning cineography as a separate entity. It made it more difficult to be drawn into the story and empathise with the characters as I felt the director was determined to randomly slot in as many scenery shots as possible at the expense of developing the characters, especially important in a film with little plot. This was borne out by both myself and partner thinking the film was longer than 2hr 15min and neither of us shed a tear - unusual for me! 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 173 User Reviews

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