Metascore
97

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

User Score
8.0

Generally favorable reviews- based on 723 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 175
  1. Jan 13, 2014
    10
    This was really a good movie. Try to see it if you have not already seen it.

    I knew from reading history that there were free blacks,
    primarily in the north; and that they had to be careful not to be kidnapped and sold into slavery. Knowing it and seeing in enacted on the screen was a very different thing. Represented on the screen were all of the things/people I had read about. Not an enjoyable movie, but unforgettable Expand
  2. Jan 21, 2014
    10
    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.
    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 3, 2014
    7
    极其压抑的典型McQueen式电影,虎头蛇尾,进行到后面就乱套,剧情很无聊,一点没有Extraordinary的感觉,几位主演的水准都很平庸,结尾莫名其妙,Hans Zimmer失水准,不过场景很美。
  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 175 User Reviews

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