Metascore
97

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

User Score
8.0

Generally favorable reviews- based on 909 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 197
  1. Mar 21, 2014
    10
    After what feels like twelve hundred lashings, we are left transfixed at the horrors on the screen as a poor young lady has been innocentlyAfter what feels like twelve hundred lashings, we are left transfixed at the horrors on the screen as a poor young lady has been innocently victimized by the sharp cane of a mean, powerful and perverted land owner. This is just one of the many harrowing scenes in Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave – a fruitful and climatic dramatization of Solomon Northup’s novel of the same name.

    This is a hard film to call, it is no doubt a grand dramatization in the life of a slave, but is it overtly so? Or does the film focus too much on this epic translation of Solomon’s life to the big screen that it forgets all the other impediments such a landmark should forge? When Brad Pitt enters the scene as a kind-hearted Canadian speaking out against slavery, it seems clearly convenient and perhaps too messianic. Yet, McQueen doesn’t send us half-hearted back to 1841 and rigorously achieves what a film must: let us experience the characters journey. So, despite occasional setback and concern surrounding my observations, this film is ultimately awe-inspiring and you’d have to be a fool not to feel its power and raw emotion.

    Chiwetel Ejiofor (playing Solomon) is the eyes and soul of this film. It is a grandiose performance of tears, adoration, forfeiture and being. Often, McQueen will leave his camera resting on Solomon’s shoulder or waiting just around the corner. We are summoned to live and breath with this character, feel his pain and stare straight into his forlorn soul. A primary example of McQueen escalating tension in this sense is when Solomon is hanged but left dangling with his toes barely touching the ground. There he waits for help, as most ignore him. It is excruciating, we watch Solomon balance himself, as for not would mean death. But, the camera is not always lingering, sometimes it is swirling in circles, to contradict McQueen’s earlier method of creating tension. In this case, it is tension via action, rather than emotion. In this scene, Solomon is forced to whip Patsy (Lupita Nyong’o) – a fellow lady slave – it is a pinical scene and one that hammers home the diseased social order of their sick master Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender).

    McQueen’s two previous films have also addressed intense subject matter – In Hunger we experience the hunger strike against the British occupation in Northern Island, and in Shame, a man crippled by sex addiction. The insane acts that human beings carry out on one another is the limelight of McQueen’s work and one shouldn’t be surprised if he picks out subject matter related to Hitler, Stalin or Xianzhong as his next piece of work!
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  2. Jan 16, 2014
    10
    This movie is the best of 2013, (while Gravity is my favorite), this movie deserves Best Picture Oscar, the acting is great, Chiwetel EjioforThis movie is the best of 2013, (while Gravity is my favorite), this movie deserves Best Picture Oscar, the acting is great, Chiwetel Ejiofor was great, and Michael Fassbender is great, now some people complain that the movie is brutal, and that's how it's meant to be, because that's how slavery was in real life, and this movie perfectly captures that emotion, that's why it is a masterpiece, and why it deserves the Oscar. 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,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. Sep 6, 2014
    9
    This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. It's a viewing only for those who have the stomach, but the emotional roller coaster ride you take along with Solomon Northup is almost perfect. The character development and other key aspects of the film, make it a must watch. The movie almost plays like a Schindler's list meets passion of the Christ. The one negative thing I can say about the film is the unnecessary brutality at some parts and also how it drawn out. Sooner or later I felt like I've been here and done this for two hours already. Though the movie closes off with a fantastic conclusion to a movie that will leave you hating yourself...especially if your white. Though my ancestress weren't in America during slavery and basically Irish people were slaves years before blacks; you still get that terrible sense you did something wrong. You can take this badly or good. I choose neither. It paints a picture of what we (as whites) did to blacks, which is basically the worst thing ever committed by Americans, and gives it to us. It's a very well down movie and does seem to be one of the best movies of 2013. Overall it has some big flaws but rights itself in the end with a extremely emotional finale. 9.1 Expand
  5. Feb 27, 2015
    8
    So I finally got around to seeing 12 Years a Slave, and now that I've wiped the tears from my face, I can tell you I was a littleSo I finally got around to seeing 12 Years a Slave, and now that I've wiped the tears from my face, I can tell you I was a little disappointed!

    Don't get me wrong. I'm glad I watched it. I liked certain things about the directing (like the fact that McQueen didn't plaster the movie with music) but the whole thing, the whole production, struck me as somewhat empty. There weren't those little details that bring a story, and especially a time period, to life. Life in the slave quarters, in particular, was lifeless. You can argue that that's because all the slaves were reduced to zombies, but I think it might be more a lack of imagination on the writer's part. In general I felt that where the source material didn't give any information, the movie-makers failed to fill in the gaps without resorting to cliche. I definitely want to read the autobiography now, though.

    In a weird way it was like a melding of Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto (or however you spell it). 12 Years had the lingering sadomasochism of the Passion (Polansky proved you don't need to dwell on torture to make an audience feel it), at the same time it was a rousing survival story like Apocalypto. How can you not root for Platt! Every time he got his hands on some sneering racist villain I cheered! But I was disappointed in the end, because say what you will about Mel Gibson, he knows how to conjure up the weirdness of a different world.

    Also, you gotta love how Brad Pitt, who produced the movie, gave himself the best white role.
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  6. Jun 22, 2014
    7
    12 years a slave is a good film that could have been a great film, it is well worth watching and the conclusion is fantastic, but they somehow12 years a slave is a good film that could have been a great film, it is well worth watching and the conclusion is fantastic, but they somehow felt the need to try just a little bit too hard, when the subject matter is more than powerful enough.

    Chiwetel delivers an excellent performance - as always, yet I don't believe that the movie deserves the shining critical acclaim it has received.
    Expand
  7. Mar 3, 2014
    0
    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

See all 197 User Reviews

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