This harrowing story of the worst of humanity is deceptively simple and straightforward. 12 Years a Slave is an essential film for all to see.
Julian Roman - MovieWeb
12 Years a Slave is a movie about a life that gets taken away, and that's why it lets us touch what life is.
Owen Gleiberman - Entertainment Weekly
The genius of 12 Years a Slave is its insistence on banal evil, and on terror, that seeped into souls, bound bodies and reaped an enduring, terrible price.
Manohla Dargis - New York Times
The harrowing 12 Years a Slave is a mesmerizing period drama for the ages.
Claudia Puig - USA Today
McQueen doesn't go in for a lot of flash edits or self-conscious visual flourishes to put viewers at ease; rather, he invites the audience to sit with him as he gazes, amazed, at man's inhumanity to man ...
Ann Hornaday - Washington Post
Other movies and books have gone here, but few so far and with such overwhelming clarity of purpose.
Ty Burr - Boston Globe
Aside from a characteristically nuanced lead performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor... it's a picture that stays more than a few safe steps away from anything so dangerous as raw feeling.
Stephanie Zacharek - Village Voice
A harrowing, unforgettable drama that doesn't look away from the reality of slavery and, in so doing, helps us all fully, truly confront it.
Joe Neumaier - New York Daily News
It seems certain to transcend the movie realm and become a new reference point in contemporary culture-a defining vision of what slavery looked like, and felt like, in the U.S. before the Civil War.
Joe Morgenstern - Wall Street Journal
Every scene of 12 Years a Slave, and almost every shot, conveys some penetrating truth about America's original sin.
Chris Vognar - Dallas Morning News
12 Years a Slave is easily the greatest feature film ever made about American slavery.
David Denby - New Yorker
A film this good, and this quietly distinctive in its style, is always welcome.
Michael Phillips - Chicago Tribune
Slavery here is not only a great moral darkness but a sweeping canvas for depicting the emotional deformities of the people who enforced and exploited the practice.
J. R. Jones - Chicago Reader
It speaks to the courage and resilience of one man, the savagery of many, and the potential, for both good and for ill, in us all.
Steven Rea - Philadelphia Inquirer
The film is both brutal to watch and stunning to contemplate, powerfully challenging audiences - particularly white audiences - to examine their consciences.
Colin Covert - Minneapolis Star Tribune
"12 Years a Slave" lays out an institution so twisted and wrong that its honest portrayal has been avoided for centuries. Yes, it's dark and brutal. It needs to be.
Tom Long - Detroit News
Slavery is revealed for the unrelenting horror that it was. About time.
Bill Goodykoontz - Arizona Republic
If the best films hold you in a captive vise, entertain you, keep you spellbound and teach you something at the same time, then 12 Years a Slave is outstanding-brave, courageous and unforgettable.
Rex Reed - New York Observer
This epic account of an unbreakable soul makes even Scarlett O'Hara's struggles seem petty by comparison.
Peter Debruge - Variety
A brutally powerful and emotionally devastating film that takes great pains to rip any lingering vestiges of romanticism from America's most shameful institution.
Lou Lumenick - New York Post
Believe the Oscar buzz. Britain's Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame) nails the horror of America's slavery shame but also finds humanity in one man's determination to free himself and return to his family.
Peter Howell - Toronto Star
Northup's story was a true, terrible thing, and by virtue of telling it, the burdens of all American slaves are unflinchingly realized by Ejiofor and McQueen alike.
William Goss - Film.com
...a particularly noteworthy advancement in McQueen's already impressive filmography that funnels the cerebral formalism of his earlier features into a deeply involving survival narrative.
Eric Kohn - indieWIRE
12 Years a Slave, British director Steve McQueen's antebellum Southern drama, sets a new standard in realistically depicting American slavery.
Liam Lacey - Globe and Mail
"12 Years a Slave" offers no false Hollywood catharsis along with its muted happy ending, because we're not free from the curse of slavery yet. Looking at it, as it really was, is a start.
Andrew O'Hehir - Salon.com
So overpowering is this film's simple, horrible, and almost entirely true story that it's hard to get enough distance on 12 Years a Slave to poke at its inner workings.
Dana Stevens - Slate
The film offers a formidable indictment of the cruelty of which human beings are capable.
James Berardinelli - ReelViews
A strong, involving, at times overstated telling of an extraordinary life story.
Todd McCarthy - Hollywood Reporter
The film truly belongs to Ejiofor, whose big, soulful eyes seem to register so many things at once: Shock, pain, grit, determination, abject despair at times, cautious hope at others - and always, dignity.
Jocelyn Noveck - Associated Press
In the epic form of 12 Years a Slave, his most approachable, emotional film, McQueen escalates the tension.
Richard Corliss - TIME Magazine
You won't be able to tuck this powder keg in the corner of your mind and forget it. What we have here is a blistering, brilliant, straight-up classic.
Peter Travers - Rolling Stone
Brave performances throughout this magnificent film.
Richard Roeper - Richard Roeper.com
When a director who never ever blinks takes on a horrific subject, a nightmare in broad daylight is the inevitable result. Welcome, if that is the right word, to the world of 12 Years a Slave.
Kenneth Turan - Los Angeles Times
McQueen approaches the narrative straight on and sober, with long, long takes bearing the weight of cruelty.
Rob Gonsalves - eFilmCritic.com
We've seen movies about the horrors of slavery before. This one is about the mechanics.
Filled with astonishing, gut-wrenching performances, it brings Northup's stunning story to life in a deeply-affecting way.
With enough scope to examine its impact on a community forcibly dehumanized by organized and terrible helplessness, it's a remarkable achievement, brilliantly executed.
- Philadelphia Weekly
A film that, despite its surface simplicity, proves to be riven with contradictions to the point of incoherence.
Jake Wilson - Sydney Morning Herald
Whilst 12 Years may lack the grandiose scale of Amistad, McQueen's ability to extract tension and provide insight into the evil nature of men during a dark period in America's history, makes for compelling viewing.
Plain and simple, 12 Years A Slave is a modern day masterpiece.
It is so fluent and so certain -- both in its humanism and its depiction of institutionalised savagery.
Craig Mathieson - The Age (Australia)
We are surely watching one of the transcendent performances of the year in Ejiofor's sensitive, moving portrayal of the miserably oppressed Solomon.
- Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Given the subject matter of the film, it's unsurprising to say that 12 Years a Slave is moving, but it's a testament to the filmmaking just how devastating the experience of watching it actually is.
The film belongs to Chiwetel and the remarkable ensemble that surrounds him. With McQueen, they've created a landmark picture of devastating power.
12 Years A Slave is a powerful, moving and intelligently unsentimental tale that is engrossing and memorable.
David Edwards - Daily Mirror [UK]
Easily the most powerful, compelling, devastating, and just plain blunt film about slavery ever made, Steve McQueen's adaptation of Solomon Northup's 1853 memoir, 12 Years a Slave is a raw and searing indictment.
Gary Dowell - Dark Horizons
Yes, we've all been enlightened unto the depletive hell that was the era of American slavery. But perhaps never, at least through cinema, have we been placed so vividly among the human beings who suffered through it.
Michael Arbeiter - Hollywood.com
McQueen depicts the horrific experiences of Solomon Northup, the free man kidnapped and sold into slavery, in utterly unflinching fashion. The film's strength lies in its frankness and avoidance of either sentimentality or Quentin Tarantino-style irony.
Geoffrey Macnab - Independent
12 Years a Slave" is still one of the best movies of the year. It's also one of the most unsettling.
- Las Vegas Review-Journal
The crux of 12 Years a Slave's power comes back to Chiwetel Ejiofor. What a great, touching, tenacious performance.
Luke Buckmaster - Crikey
12 Years a Slave is the clearest view of slavery I've seen onscreen.
Edward Johnson-Ott - NUVO Newsweekly
McQueen directs with a total lack of sentiment, crafting each sequence with a merciless forward momentum that compensates for the episodic nature of the narrative.
Norman Wilner - NOW Toronto
In its own saintly manner, it's as exploitative as anything critics accused Django Unchained of being, minus Tarantino's eye for idiosyncrasy and sense of humor.
As hard-hitting as this is, though, it's the muted sense of outrage and injustice coursing through every fibre of Solomon's being that lingers longest, ensuring 12 Years a Slave triumphs as a human story about an inhuman institution.
Alistair Harkness - Scotsman
The film tells an irresistibly powerful story, in a way that does not shirk the horror. It is unbearable to watch at times, but that is as it should be.
Paul Byrnes - Sydney Morning Herald
The film is beautifully underplayed with an emotional undercurrent that gradually builds an accumulative force, before all of that anger and sorrow finally explodes to the surface in an unforgettable final scene.
Philip Concannon - The Skinny
You will recoil. You will flinch. You will say to yourself, 'Oh no, not again.' But the story will seize you with such a visceral power you will be rooted to the spot. I know I was and I'm not easy to root.
Some movies have to be made, have to be seen, and no other consideration needs to be entered into.
Watching 12 Years a Slave does not feel like an ethical or educational obligation. While its instructive value is undeniable, this is also a rousing portrait, a morally complicated tale and a masterful work of art.
- Willamette Week
As with Schindler's List, you won't want to be munching a bucket of popcorn through this.
Graham Young - Birmingham Mail
Screenwriter John Ridley takes a story that's episodic in nature and crafts a narrative that manages to build in intensity and emotion for over two hours.
Driven by the best performances of the year, bold directing, and a compelling true story that reminds us of our nation's shameful, inhumane past, it is a film destined to enjoy a reputation as one of the greatest films ever produced about slavery.
This isn't simply an important movie, but a dose of brutal truth that must be confronted, and done so with absolute certainty.
David Keyes - Cinemaphile.org
Lupita Nyong'o is the emotional epicenter of the entire film.
Ejiofor's low-key, naturalistic acting mode is ideal for conveying Northup's self-control and intelligence. And Fassbender avoids turning the malevolent Epps into a one-note nemesis.
John P. McCarthy
McQueen works from ferocity to felicity. Scenes of body horror bear higher emotional stakes than your average horror film. It's a film of few kindnesses and many graces.
An uncompromising look at slavery in the Antebellum South. Anchored by career-defining performances by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong'o, director Steve McQueen brings his assured directorial mind to a harrowing, but necessary picture.
Wesley Lovell - Cinema Sight
There are no false pretenses or unnecessary charging, instead, there is patience and time. The moments of suspension often become the biggest delight.
Much of it is difficult to watch, but '12 Years a Slave' is that rare film that's both important in its message and a darned good film all the same.
James Plath - Movie Metropolis
While the praise for 12 Years a Slave has been rather overblown, it's still a recommendable film due to its incredible cast, which helps cover up its weaknesses.
Jeff Beck - Examiner.com
This is a truly impressive piece of filmmaking.
Matt Neal - The Standard
O que nos torna racistas nao e o preconceito que exercemos de maneira ativa, mas a intolerancia contra as mais diversas minorias que simplesmente nos mostramos incapazes de perceber.
Pablo Villaca - Cinema em Cena
It's a heavy, depressing film but it's also one that's hard to discredit.
Matthew Toomey - ABC Radio Brisbane
McQueen has used this near-documentary style of filming before, but this is the first time it's seemed essential to his story.
Anthony Morris - The Vine
An unflinching, uncomfortable and entirely necessary modern classic.
Tom Glasson - Concrete Playground
There is a reason that Slave has topped the best of list of 25 major film critics and won the Golden Globe for Best Picture. Miss it at your own loss.
Adam Ross - The Aristocrat
The direction from Steve McQueen is visceral, the script from John Ridley doesn't waste a word, and the performances are, without exception, brilliant.
Annette Basile - FILMINK (Australia)
Using dialogue sparsely and shocking images relentlessly, McQueen's movie brilliantly explores the implications and legacy of slavery, and debunks some of its more cherished myths.
Minds will be opened, perhaps even changed by what they see (and indeed, feel) here.
Leigh Paatsch - Herald Sun (Australia)
Fortunately, 12 Years a Slave is not just a minor vanity project for Brad Pitt, who is one of its producers, but also a courageous step forward for director Steve McQueen.
The film imparts the casual cruelty of slavery with full force without having to resort to graphic portrayals of on-screen brutality. The film certainly has those, but they are sporadic, well-judged and serve the larger story of a man starved of freedom.
Jim Schembri - 3AW
12 Years A Slave tackles America's primal sin of slavery with unflinching honesty, leaving in the shade Hollywood's previous efforts to address the subject, from Gone With the Wind's rose-tinted myopia to Django Unchained's gore-and-irony-soaked fantasy.
Jason Best - Movie Talk
Generally more concerned with making its audience wince than with forging an indelible imprint on the soul.
Bruce Bennett - Spectrum (St. George, Utah)
It may well be the greatest film ever made about slavery, but that says more about the movie world than the work itself.
Matt Glasby - Flicks.co.nz
In its portrayal of violence and spectatorship, it stays in the mind.
McQueen shoots long takes in which the action (as in the emotional action, or intention) is the focus, involving us deeply and meaningfully in the characters, their circumstances and the broader context. The impact is strong.
Andrew L. Urban - Urban Cinefile
Involving and disturbing with an inspiring central performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor, this is a ballsy film with themes every bit as confronting as those broached by McQueen in his earlier films Hunger (2008) and Shame (2011)
Louise Keller - Urban Cinefile
The fortuitously named [Steve McQueen] follows up his previous pictures Hunger and Shame with this similarly pit-of-the-stomach venturing, queasy-making drama
Simon Miraudo - Quickflix
Ejiofor proves himself a master of physical understatement, the clench of his teeth and slightest parting of the lips speaking volumes.
Mark Kermode - Observer [UK]
This is a terrifically well-intended and necessarily difficult movie to watch: but I'm not entirely convinced McQueen has delivered quite the masterpiece some would suggest it is.
Michael Bonner - Uncut Magazine [UK]
A tale of suffering, endurance, courage and abiding humanity about a freeborn man kidnapped and sold into slavery, which packs all the more wallop for the elegance with which it's made.
Leslie Felperin - Radio Times
Ejiofor projects extraordinary integrity, even nobility - and he holds the camera magnificently. It's a deeply inward, deeply felt performance, surely a cert for one of the many Oscars this film must win.
David Sexton - This is London
The American South's "peculiar institution" has, it seems, become a fit topic for narrative cinema. And it only took a century.
Donald Clarke - Irish Times
This is history alert to the many gradations that inform any fully formed understanding of the past; history unbound.
Ed Whitfield - The Ooh Tray
12 Years a Slave proves McQueen's formal prowess and, more significantly, his utter seriousness as a dramatist.
Calum Marsh - Sight and Sound
Much more than a film about 19th century slavery in America, this sharply well-told true story has a lot to say about the world we live in today.
Rich Cline - Contactmusic.com
There's little doubt that this painfully authentic adaptation of former slave Solomon Northup's memoir is an important film. But it is not an easy one to sit through.
Andy Lea - Daily Star
McQueen's previous films were called Hunger and Shame; there is plenty of both in this almost unwatchably shocking and violent film.
I have seen it twice now, and on both occasions it has managed to enthral and appal in just about equal measure.
- Daily Mail [UK]
It does what great cinema should do: takes you on an extraordinary journey and make you feel grateful to be alive.
Henry Fitzherbert - Daily Express
12 Years a Slave isn't simply a masterpiece, it's a milestone. This, at last, really is history written with lightning.
Robbie Collin - Daily Telegraph
Twelve Years a Slave is a magnificent achievement and it is a career best for everyone involved, not least its artist-turned-director, Steve McQueen.
Ryan Gilbey - New Statesman
The whole film breathes with reality, even while the bayou landscapes are infernalised, surrealised, by a terrible beauty of vision.
Nigel Andrews - Financial Times
A flat-out masterpiece, a magnificent, uncompromising and emotionally devastating slavery drama with a superb script, stunning direction and an extraordinary central performance from Chiwetel Ejiofor.
Matthew Turner - ViewLondon
One of Britain's greatest living filmmakers offers an outraged, intense and artful examination of American slavery.
Ashley Clark - Little White Lies
A relentless, raw and visceral condemnation of a viciously racist regime that condemned its victims to a life of hard labour with random cruelties thrown in and justified by a skewed interpretation of the Old Testament.
Tim Evans - Sky Movies
The cumulative emotional effect is devastating: the final scenes are as angry, as memorable, as overwhelming as anything modern cinema has to offer.
Tom Huddleston - Time Out
The violence is starkly pictured by McQueen, lingering on black skin torn apart to reveal milky white flesh and, of course, red blood.
Stella Papamichael - Digital Spy
Falling between the twin pillars of the art house and prestige period flick, 12 Years A Slave is history lesson as horror film, powerful, visceral and affecting.
Ian Freer - Empire Magazine
Solomon's story doesn't need fictionalising to be absolutely devastating, and McQueen tells it straight, trusting its account, and his actors, to make it resonant.
Joe Utichi - FilmFocus
In a film brimming with great performances -- including Fassbender as the ruthless Epps, and Nyong'o's star-making work as the tormented Patsey -- Ejiofor's portrayal of Northup shines.
Sean Means - Salt Lake Tribune
12 Years a Slave remains an important film, if nothing else for the fact that these are not anonymous characters created for Hollywood storytelling, but one man's remarkable story that puts a face on history.
Michael Smith - Tulsa World
These people are presented as they must have seemed at the time, even to themselves; there's no sense of a 21st-century actor sending out subtle I'm-not-really-like-this signals.
Jim Lane - Sacramento News & Review
Ejiofor's performance masterfully walks the line between showing Northrup's unbowed spirit and giving him superhuman levels of fortitude.
Marc Mohan - Oregonian
The film is exactly the sort of thing we mean when we talk about the arts reflecting, ennobling, and strengthening a culture.
Eric D. Snider - EricDSnider.com
While Nature/Fate/God can perform apparent wickedness without conscience, neither hold a candle to man.
Jordan Hiller - Bangitout.com
Punishing, relentless, terrible and necessary
Dan Jardine - Cinemania
The year's best film, this drama is a cinematic achievement and will be impossible to forget.
John Hanlon - John Hanlon Reviews
Two hours of torture and degradation were done much better in "Saw" or "Hostel". This is not a Major Statement about slavery but one about a visual artist's preoccupation with pain--just like his misbegotten "Hunger".
Louis Proyect - rec.arts.movies.reviews
This is an extraordinary film.
David Stratton - At the Movies (Australia)
I find [McQueen] extraordinary and I thought also what it was really about was the concept of man as a chattel.
Margaret Pomeranz - At the Movies (Australia)
Shooting the travesties at an artistic remove as if he were observing slavery as a mechanism, McQueen's lush, foreboding compositions don't get in the way of the soul-crushing story.
Radheyan Simonpillai - AskMen.com
While director McQueen does bring forth an incredible cast of excellent performers to play supporting characters, [this film] belongs to Ejiofor and only Ejiofor.
Felix Vasquez Jr. - Cinema Crazed
Assaulted by black and white men and feared by a white woman, exposed in every way, this body lingers in your mind. Signifying so many "mortifications," Patsey reveals to Solomon what he and you must see.
Cynthia Fuchs - PopMatters
So very artfully fiddling while America burns
S. James Wegg - JWR
If 12 Years a Slave sounds like a brutal viewing experience then you'd be right, but in eschewing sentimentality and striving for honesty in the storytelling it is also a powerful, essential drama.
Gail Tolley - The List
The power of McQueen's movie is in its declaratory style: This happened. That is all, and that is everything.
The feel terrible film of 2013, but for a very good reason
Cameron Williams - The Popcorn Junkie
12 Years a Slave is an authentic, stunning, and moving work about the darkest reaches of American history.
Bill Clark - FromTheBalcony
Unflinching, excruciating direction from McQueen; arresting and affective performances from Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong'o & Michael Fassbender; John Ridley's adaption of this shamefully true story is epic; 12 Years a Slave is extraordinary.
Blake Howard - 2UE That Movie Show
One of this year's must-see films, this is not simply a worthy tribute of a subject too often ignored by Hollywood; it's also a remarkable piece of cinema in its own right.
Jennie Kermode - Eye for Film
Like Steven Spielberg's LINCOLN from last year, and for which this is a good companion piece, this film is required viewing to understand the United States as it was
Mark R. Leeper - Mark Leeper's Reviews
Some movies are 'must-see,' but '12 Years a Slave' goes beyond that to 'deserves to be seen' status. The film, which tells a true story, is a rarity that pulls no punches about the hellishness of slavery.
Linda Cook - Quad City Times (Davenport, IA)
It is a film that necessity and education demand seeing.
David Thomson - The New Republic
avoids an easy sense of moralizing and propels us deep into the characters' experiences
James Kendrick - Q Network Film Desk
Through a rich, grueling portrait of the machinery of institutionalized slavery, it asks us to examine the rotten core of slavery and how it permeates our entire culture, not just to ponder life in the 1840s.
Eric Melin - Scene-Stealers.com
Horrifying. Riveting. Must see.
Gary Wolcott - Tri-City Herald
Slavery has been addressed in films many times before, but I have never seen slavery depicted in the graphic, emotional way it is depicted here.
Robert Roten - Laramie Movie Scope
Good, but not as great as it should have been.
Jackie K. Cooper - jackiekcooper.com
A decent film, but hardly the breakthrough anti-slavery masterpiece many have claimed. It's difficult to stay in the brutal reality with A-list movie stars around every bend.
A remarkably gripping and frank social conscious pic about the horrors of slavery that's earnestly directed by Brit former visual artist Steve McQueen.
Dennis Schwartz - Ozus' World Movie Reviews
The film of the decade.
Jay Antani - Cinema Writer
12 Years a Slave isn't always easy to sit through, but it is most definitely a vital and profound motion picture.
Mike McGranaghan - Aisle Seat
Not only the most powerful movie yet produced about our national shame but also the rare film about history and race that does not seek to absolve, comfort or flatter the mass audience it aspires to reach.
John Beifuss - Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)
All of this goes together to earn 12 Years a Slave a spot at the top of the list for best pictures released this year.
Rick Bentley - Fresno Bee
With relentlessly calm intensity, it depicts the institution as a machine - a pitiless mechanism that's countered with pitiless direction from filmmaker Steve McQueen.
Matt Prigge - Metro
Well, it took a Brit to get the job done, but we finally have it: a nightmare snapshot of plantation life from the viewpoint of an American slave.
Rick Kisonak - Film Threat
...meticulously made, sporadically captivating, and yet palpably overlong...
David Nusair - About.com
The stunning and tragic true story of a free black man sold into slavery in the pre-Civil War South, 12 Years a Slave is guttural, raw, and necessary to the moment, the kind of film that merits critical accolades and industry trophies.
Kirk Baird - Toledo Blade
12 Years a Slave Devastating and Memorable
Charles Koplinski - Illinois Times
The closest comparison is Schindler's List, with its immersion into historical tragedy, bringing the unspeakable to discussion. But make no mistake. There hasn't been a movie like this, which is Hollywood's shame. Miss it, and that mistake is yours.
Steve Persall - Tampa Bay Times
Raw emotion manifest...not easily forgotten, as it should be.
John Serba - MLive.com
Ejiofor ... gives a performance for the ages ...
Greg Maki - Star-Democrat (Easton, MD)
Beautifully made and stylish to no end -- even elegant. With an assured hand, McQueen has captured the uncomfortable juxtaposition of natural beauty and unnatural ugliness.
Ken Hanke - Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)
The lingering effect is, 'Yeah, these nightmares really happened. People can be horrible. God have mercy.' I just don't find that the movie has given me much to think about.
Jeffrey Overstreet - Looking Closer
12 Years a Slave is not a game.
Tony Macklin - tonymacklin.net
Knowing the story's outcome does nothing to lessen the potency of what's shown on screen, largely because of the courageous manner in which McQueen holds certain shots as if he's daring us to look away for even a second.
Matt Brunson - Creative Loafing
Ejiofor's performance is the heart and soul of the movie. He is transformed from a carefree and happy family man to a downtrodden individual who has the hope for rescue continually quashed or beaten out of him.
Bob Bloom - Journal and Courier (Lafayette, IN)
12 Years a Slave doesn't add much to the ongoing conversation about slavery but it's a well-made meditation about a man who endures a terrifying journey.
Sandy Schaefer - ScreenRant
Extraordinary and devastating
Matt Kelemen - AspectRatio.us
Oscar nominations will likely include Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, and Supporting Actress, among others.
Clint O'Connor - Cleveland Plain Dealer
The extraordinary 12 Years a Slave thrusts its lead character (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and the audience into slavery's moral and psychological morass more fully and directly than any movie before it.
Carla Meyer - Sacramento Bee
Brutal yet elegant, 12 Years a Slave is a beautifully rendered punch to the gut about the most shameful chapter in American history.
Steve Davis - Austin Chronicle
As we watch a finite horror envelop Northup, we imagine the infinite horror of people trapped in lifelong captivity.
Lawrence Toppman - Charlotte Observer
By forcing his audience to watch, passively, for minute after minute, McQueen makes us all complicit. It's the scene that no American has been able to produce because it's void of heroism, and shows us slavery as a mere means of doing business.
Katherine Monk - Canada.com
It is not an angry movie or a judgmental one, and this just-the-facts approach brings home the heartbreaking reality of slavery in America.
Mathew DeKinder - Suburban Journals of St. Louis
A powerful and necessary look at the abject cruelty of U.S. slavery
Robert Denerstein - Movie Habit
Not the first (and most certainly will not be the last) film to tackle the subject of America's shameful history of slavery, but it often feels like the first real one.
Michael Dequina - TheMovieReport.com
12 Years a Slave is at times difficult to watch but always impossible to turn away from.
Rene Rodriguez - Miami Herald
The film succeeds by simply, plainly placing audiences in the emotional crucible of pre-abolition America and firing their imaginations.
Peter Canavese - Groucho Reviews
This is a nightmare of a film, but an unforgettable one.
Austin Kennedy - Film Geek Central
"12 Years a Slave" is essential because its raw impact is unrivaled.
Jon Niccum - Kansas City Star
Exceedingly well-crafted and brilliantly acted by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender, McQueen's go-to star, the movie is harrowing, intense and important.
Anders Wright - San Diego Union-Tribune
British director Steve McQueen and American screenwriter John Ridley adapt Solomon Northup's meticulous slave narrative into a masterpiece of clear-eyed historical drama.
John Wirt - Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA)
It provokes recognition in us of the very heart of darkness. It makes the unimaginable imaginable.
Mick LaSalle - San Francisco Chronicle
"12 Years a Slave" isn't easy to watch, and it shouldn't be; it's one man's tragedy, but it's also the tragedy of countless thousands of souls beaten down, literally and metaphorically.
Moira MacDonald - Seattle Times
It's a tough movie to watch but a rewarding and thoughtful one.
Chris Hewitt (St. Paul) - St. Paul Pioneer Press
A graphically violent portrayal of the treatment of people trapped in human bondage before the Civil War, as well as a disturbing portrait of the perversity that festered in slaveholders.
Duane Dudek - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
One of the best and most courageous films of the year.
Calvin Wilson - St. Louis Post-Dispatch
It's an ugly tale but we can't afford to take our eyes off it.
Kelly Vance - East Bay Express
There are moments that are less crushing than others, but there is no free-floating hope here, only that which Northup can make.
Joe Gross - Austin American-Statesman
12 Years a Slave is admirable, important, and serious filmmaking that is antithetical to what most people think of as entertainment. While it might not be perfect, it demands and deserves your attention.
Perry Seibert - TV Guide's Movie Guide
The film has led you to experience slavery as an unending nightmare so horrific that there is something cruel even in Northup's liberation from it.
Stuart Klawans - The Nation
Rich with details, 12 Years a Slave is an accomplished effort, yet McQueen is distracted by the weave work of story, failing to find art in agony.
Brian Orndorf - Blu-ray.com
The film wants to hurt you, knows you are terrified of what it will show you, then shows you way more than you bargained for.
Provocative yet well made drama.
This is not medicine for America to swallow; it's filmmaking of the highest caliber.
Randy Myers - San Jose Mercury News
McQueen makes the theater drapes melt away, immersing audiences in a story that will make them feel like witnesses to history.
Mike Scott - Times-Picayune
But make no mistake, this is Ejiofor's show, and he commands it utterly from minute one.
Pete Vonder Haar - Houston Press
The film hits like a sledgehammer, in part because it suggests that films about slavery are rare because we are guilty of burying the shameful aspects of our history.
Lori Hoffman - Atlantic City Weekly
Though Solomon Northupp's story is one that deserves to be told, it could have benefited from a little restraint.
Jason Zingale - Bullz-Eye.com
Imperfect but must-see epic drama with major cruelty.
S. Jhoanna Robledo - Common Sense Media
A reminder of the awe-inspiring power great movies can have. Roll, Jordan, roll.
James Verniere - Boston Herald
"12 Years a Slave" finally gives America a definitive movie on its peculiar institution.
Gary Thompson - Philadelphia Daily News
12 Years a Slave is an outstanding triumph in filmmaking since it's so unbelievably captivating yet will leave you feeling so undeniably uncomfortable as it takes pride in ripping your mortality to shreds over the course of two hours.
Chris Sawin - Examiner.com
Brilliant yet brutal without playing on our guilt. Straightforward horror with an astonishing cast. It is director Steve McQueen's masterwork
Victoria Alexander - Las Vegas Informer
One of the finest historical movies ever made.
Michael Sragow - Orange County Register
But the much talked-about 12 Years a Slave is more than a beautifully shot art piece. It's history made violently real.
Cary Darling - Fort Worth Star-Telegram/DFW.com
Ejiofor brings imposing physicality and intimidating intellect to the role, and thus Northup poses a threat to his enemies -- even if they can't articulate it as such.
Annlee Ellingson - Paste Magazine
An important work, but one that's more potent on an intellectual level than an emotional one.
Frank Swietek - One Guy's Opinion
McQueen imbues his film with undeniable artistry and intellectual rigor, but startlingly little passion. You will be angered, horrified and moved by what you witness, but you will not be challenged.
Jeff Meyers - Metro Times (Detroit, MI)
With this powerful, almost classical drama, British director Steve McQueen has made the seminal film about slavery that Hollywood feared to tackle.
Kate Muir - Times [UK]
Stands a good chance of ending up the definitive American film about slavery.
Stephen Silver - EntertainmentTell
A parable about the fragility of the middle class.
Sara Maria Vizcarrondo - Movies With Butter
The production of "12 Years a Slave" is by far the most ambitious work for director McQueen who makes a strong statement against the still-ongoing issue of slavery.
Robin Clifford - Reeling Reviews
A gripping drama and immaculate depiction of human suffering and strength.
Tim Brayton - Antagony & Ecstasy
Some might dread its violence, but in its truth in showing us the American slavery experience, 12 Years a Slave is glorious in its brutality. It's required viewing for all Americans and a vital universal lesson about man's inhumanity to man.
Diva Velez - TheDivaReview.com
Apart from caricatures-as-characters reasons, the cinematography in '12 Years a Slave' is over-prettified and distracting.
Donald J. Levit - ReelTalk Movie Reviews
this film falters enough that it needs to be acknowledged, its passage of time muddled...some lesser acting skills distancing, Hans Zimmer's score only occasionally rising above cliched Celtic themes and mournful fanfare.
Laura Clifford - Reeling Reviews
So raw and distressing is this historical account of a true-life American slave, it's tempting to turn away from the screen. Or maybe just cover your eyes for a few minutes of respite. Try not to.
- Us Weekly
No mainstream movie since "Schindler's List" has merged worthy sentiment and grueling sadism with such powerfully disturbing sweep.
Greg Evans - Bloomberg News
Bill Gibron - PopMatters
Brutal, harrowing, powerful and exceptionally well-acted. Worth seeing but not for those with weak stomachs. Director Steve McQueen doesn't spare the viewer.
Pete Hammond - Movieline
Stephen Whitty - Newark Star-Ledger
Director McQueen's now signature techniques are on full display here. In Ejiofor, McQueen finds another gifted actor that embraces hard and emotive story-telling.
Jonathan W. Hickman - Daily Film Fix
[T]he most important achievement of this staggering film is how acutely and precisely [McQueen] depicts the psychological cruelty...
Mark Dujsik - Mark Reviews Movies
Ejiofor gives the audience more emotion with a glance than most actors could muster with an entire page of dialogue.
Willie Waffle - WaffleMovies.com
Director Steve McQueen was clearly the right man to execute an unflinching adaptation of Solomon Northup's incredible story.
Leonard Maltin - Leonard Maltin's Picks
It is a bold and uncompromising vision of the Deep South in the mid-19th century that provides a visceral glimpse into the horrors of slavery and racial politics in the country just prior to the Civil War.
Todd Jorgenson - Cinemalogue.com
12 Years a Slave is likely the most painful, clear-eyed feature ever made about American slavery. In that light, it almost seems faint praise to add that it will also likely prove to be the best film of the year.
Christopher Orr - The Atlantic
It's a tremendous expose into this disturbing and unconscionable institution.
Jeanne Kaplan - Kaplan vs. Kaplan
The filmmakers strangely decided to introduce the film with a brief appearance by Ejiofor to proclaim the movie's value. That, along with the pre-Oscar buzz, was perhaps too much to live up to.
David Kaplan - Kaplan vs. Kaplan
In his typically visceral way, McQueen rips the scab off a wound that may never fully heal and dares us to look away.
Ethan Alter - Television Without Pity
It is Ejiofor - bewildered, sorely tested, morally towering - whose staggered dignity anchors the film.
Bob Mondello - NPR
A sensational movie distinguished by its lack of sensationalism.
Kurt Loder - Reason Online
A masterful film that's brutal, thought-provoking and undeniably affecting, 12 Years a Slave nakedly depicts the inhumanity and hopelessness of American slavery, and at the same time chronicles the perseverance, and resilience, of the human spirit.
Todd Gilchrist - Comic Book Resources
Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave, written by John Ridley and starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, is a necessary corrective to the antics of Django Unchained, not to mention Mandingo and its ilk.
Peter Rainer - Christian Science Monitor
This movie could be a useful classroom tool for those studying America's shameful slavery days.
Jeffrey M. Anderson - Combustible Celluloid
This is a tremendously powerful drama that simultaneously highlights the human capacity for cruelty and for resilience, bolstered by an extraordinary, wrenching performance from Ejiofor.
Emma Dibdin - Digital Spy
A masterful achievement and a must-see for adults. This movie is undeniably strong stuff that illustrates all too well how our slave history remains the most American horror story of all.
Fr. Chris Carpenter - Movie Dearest
There's a difference between an "unflinching" look at something and an unflinching look at a person desperately trying to project "unflinching." 12 Years is often upsetting for all the wrong reasons. It relegates atrocities to the level of camera tricks.
Vincent Mancini - FilmDrunk
Many viewers will likely have a hard time sitting through it. Watching it is necessary, though, and hugely rewarding. The results aren't just supremely fine, but an example of important moviemaking transcending art as entertainment.
McQueen brings urgency to the subject by depicting it with a documentarian's precision; there's no false hope, only despair, in this portrait of humanity at its worst.
Robert Levin - amNewYork
"12 Years a Slave" is a somber, meditative, almost poetic film that delivers the horrors of bondage stripped down and head-on.
Susan Wloszczyna - RogerEbert.com
"12 Years" is a tour de force, just one of the most unpleasant ones you will ever see.
Justin Craig - FoxNews.com
An extraordinary but often difficult to watch film...this should be one of the top Oscar contenders of the year. (Full Content Review for Parents also available)
Jim Judy - Screen It!
The most powerful movie I never want to see again. This is not a film meant to entertain or be enjoyed, but rather provide the most unflinching, rawest portrayal of slavery ever put to film and McQueen accomplishes that masterfully.
Jeffrey Lyles - Lyles' Movie Files
"a shattering experience"
Nell Minow - Beliefnet
Other than a few exceptional moments, McQueen's movie doesn't say much about the human spirit.
Kirk Honeycutt - honeycuttshollywood.com
12 Years A Slave is more than just one of the best movies of the year, it stands alongside Roots as a significant cinematic contribution to this country's never ending discussion about slavery.
"12 Years a Slave" works on so many levels -- some topical, some timeless -- that it's almost impossible to count them.
Rafer Guzman - Newsday
There are horrors aplenty in Steve McQueen's blistering, cold-eyed epic of slavery.
Chris Barsanti - Film Racket
12 Years a Slave is not easy to watch, but it is perfectly constructed to present a sense of time and place, to show rather than tell the evil of it.
Chris Knight - National Post
It's an important subject given a realistic, respectful treatment without diminishing the cruelty and the inhumane nature of institutionalized slavery.
The sheer power of the performances capably transport viewers to a place that most of us can't even comprehend.
Brian Tallerico - HollywoodChicago.com
Made me angry, and grateful, in ways I didn't always anticipate.
Steven D. Greydanus
Channeling the evils of human bondage through the experiences of one weary figure, McQueen has constructed another intensely physical character study about a man trapped in his own flesh.
A.A. Dowd - AV Club
A raw, powerful film that matters, but watching it doesn't feel like work. If this movie ever appears on a syllabus, students will look forward to class.
Matt Pais - RedEye
12 Years a Slave is possibly the best horror film of the year, but it's a disappointing drama.
William Bibbiani - CraveOnline
Steve McQueen's latest masterpiece is a shattering horror film.
The year's most powerful film, an arthouse masterpiece which demands to be seen..important, engrossing, upsetting...It's hard to imagine one that will hit you harder.
Marshall Fine - Hollywood & Fine
[McQueen's] film is a tough, soul-sickening, uncompromising work of art that makes certain that when viewers talk about the evils of slavery, they know its full dimension.
Scott Tobias - The Dissolve
This is as plain-faced a film about slavery could possibly be, and the effect of its evenness is, oddly enough, more emotion.
Kate Erbland - Film School Rejects
It will make you furious. It will make you want to scream.
Will Leitch - Deadspin
An ultimately cold experience, but one that must be seen.
Matt Patches - IGN Movies
Savage, uncompromising and gruesomely cringe-inducing, this true tale will shock you and anger you, but it may also touch you very deeply.
Susan Granger - SSG Syndicate
A blood-drenched portrayal of what has been called "the peculiar institution," an epic work that indicts our freedom-loving nation.
Harvey S. Karten - Compuserve
It's clear from the start that this movie isn't content to simply be viewed. The picture stares back.
Josh Larsen - LarsenOnFilm
Steve McQueen's fact-based film about Southern American slavery is uncompromising, insistent, and one of the most powerful films about the subject ever made.
Joanna Langfield - The Movie Minute
12 Years A Slave is an ambitious endeavor.
The best picture of the year.
[VIDEO ESSAY] If Steve McQueen would fully commit to his calling as an exploitation director, he might eventually achieve his desired effects through that more direct approach.
Cole Smithey - ColeSmithey.com
It's smashingly effective as melodrama. But McQueen's directorial voice-cold, stark, deterministic-keeps it from attaining the kind of grace that marks the voice of a true film artist.
12 Years A Slave will beat you down emotionally, scene after scene, without any mercy - but that's just a testament to the brilliant direction, transformation-like performances, and unapologetic storytelling.
Matt Donato - We Got This Covered
12 Years A Slave is one of those rare pieces of art that all its successors taking a shot at the same topic will be measured against.
- Film Journal International
A sobering slave narrative recounting a recorded, real-life case of inhuman bondage.
Kam Williams - AALBC.com
McQueen and Ridley seem determined to obliterate any lingering Gone With the Wind-inspired notions that the antebellum South was a place of grace and charm, or that slavery was, in the euphemism of the day, merely a "peculiar institution."
There's none of Django Unchained's revenge fantasies or tomfoolery here, only a sober depiction of the cruelty and oppression that defined a long and very ugly chapter of American history.
Jason Anderson - The Grid
A sobering drama about racism and slavery that will sear your soul and set you thinking about the shadow side of American history.
Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat - Spirituality and Practice
The drooping Spanish moss is about the only visual icon that this film shares with Gone With the Wind.
Kent Turner - Film-Forward.com
Watching this brutal kidnapping and torture, it is impossible not to be similarly haunted by US atrocities today that continue under a sinister cloak of legality. From Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, to the disappeared into secret US prisons around the world.
Prairie Miller - WBAI Radio
I already feel like I have to defend myself for saying it's just good.
Fred Topel - CraveOnline
In many ways, Northrup, an educated free man, is the ideal avatar for the modern audience. He, like us, does not come to slavery naturally or easily.
Kenneth R. Morefield - Christianity Today
Steve McQueen's impersonal approach to his subject matter isn't solely to blame for the failure of 12 Years a Slave, a safely anecdotal mosaic closer in spirit to Edward P. Jones's The Known World than to Toni Morrison's radically constructed Beloved.
Ed Gonzalez - Slant Magazine
It's not too soon to call 12 Years a Slave a great film-ruined, tremulously sad, surreal in its evil.
Joshua Rothkopf - Time Out
"12 Years" is a powerful drama driven by McQueen's bold direction and the finest performance of Chiwetel Ejiofor's career.
Equally grisly and beautiful, '12 Years' is the reason why films are made. A movie you must-see, no matter how gory or violent. McQueen strangles the psychosis of racism, forcing the viewer to witness ugliness with no escape. A modern day masterpiece.
Clay Cane - BET.com
It's a story that transcends the typical expectations of the slave narrative, a story that indeed isn't about a slave but a man, a human being, fighting for his soul.
Zeba Blay - Digital Spy
This magnificent, shocking work is likely to become a sort of reference text about the horrors of one of the darkest chapters in America's history.
Ian Gilchrist - HeyUGuys
...refuses to take the easy road.
Jordan Hoffman - ScreenCrush
Using his signature visual composition and deafening sound design, Steve McQueen portrays the harrowing realism of Northrup's experience and the complicated relationships between master and slave, master and master, slave and slave, and so on.
Tina Hassannia - Slant Magazine
It's the nobility of this remarkable film that pierces the soul.
Tim Robey - Daily Telegraph
Stark, visceral and unrelenting, 12 Years a Slave is not just a great film but a necessary one.
This might just be one of the most powerful films you ever watch
Erik Davis - Movies.com
An engrossing, unsentimental odyssey that finds Steve McQueen moving away from the intimate approach of his first two films for a broader canvas and a more sweeping narrative.
Tim Grierson - Screen International
A film that will no doubt come to be known as the definitive movie on slavery in America. It's something everyone should be obligated to see, as it conveys the nightmare of that period in a real, affecting, personal way.
Chris Bumbray - JoBlo's Movie Emporium
Hunger and Shame were mimetic where 12 Years a Slave is diegetic.
Walter Chaw - Film Freak Central
A more conventional effort than 'Hunger' or 'Shame,' but it's every bit as searing and tough-minded, and hardly less challenging.
Eugene Novikov - Film Blather
Amistad meets the Marquis de Sade, in the form of slavemaster Michael Fassbender, who puts his victims through more tortures than Mel Gibson ever could have imagined for Jesus.
Chris Willman - The Playlist