’12 Years a Slave’ Review Round-up

October 20, 2013

’12 Years a Slave,’ Steve McQueen’s screen adaptation of Solomon Northup’s memoir of the same title has received rave reviews. See what critics have to say about the Oscar-buzzed landmark film about a tragic chapter in U.S. history that has not been fully explored in cinema.

Critics herald it as a masterpiece. It’s no longer a question of whether or not ’12 Years a Slave’ will get Oscar nominations — Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress etc. seem like shoe-ins in particular — it’s just a matter of how many it will receive and how many it will win.

It is the true story of Solomon Northup, as told to David Wilson, published in 1853. By now the premise of what was previously a fairly obscure autobiography is now well known. Northup was a free black man living in New York State, an educated, accomplished violinist and family man whose life was suddenly disrupted when he was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South, landing first in Louisiana and passed from one master to another, as he revealed so grippingly in his book.

Now the story has been brought to a worldwide audience. British filmmaker Steve McQueen (‘Hunger,’ ‘Shame’) is the director — from a screen adaptation by John Ridley (‘U Turn,’ ‘Red Tails’)– and British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor (‘Talk to Me,’ ‘American Gangster’) portrays Solomon Northup. The two are pictured above along with actress Lupita Nyong’o who portrays a fellow slave.

Rounding out the cast of this viscerally harrowing screen depiction of what was euphemistically called “the peculiar institution” are Benedict Cumberbatch portraying the first of Northrup’s masters, Michael Fassbinder as a later and more sadistic master, and others, including Brad Pitt, who is one of the film’s producers, and has a bit part as a Canadian abolitionist as well as Paul Dano, Alfre Woodard, Adepero Oduye, Paul Giamatti, and Sarah Paulson.

The critics have much to say in praise for the effort. Here’s a roundup.

“…“12 Years a Slave” is easily the greatest feature film ever made about American slavery. It shows up the plantation scenes of “Gone with the Wind” for the sentimental kitsch that they are, and, intentionally or not, it’s an artist’s rebuke to Quentin Tarantino’s high-pitched, luridly extravagant “Django Unchained.”….”– The New Yorker

“… 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….” — The New York Times

“…“12 Years a Slave” isn’t just a cathartic experience that happens to be an astonishing formal achievement: It works its emotional power precisely because it’s so elegantly constructed, from the inside out…..” — The Washington Post

“….Here, McQueen immerses viewers in the magnolia-scented hell to which his protagonist was exiled. You will recoil at every punishment, feel each slur, with an immediacy that makes the long-ago, “peculiar institution” of slavery as vivid as a whiplash….” — Time

“….Slavery often gets debated by wig-wearing white folk in the movies – as if there’s any debate to be had – but when has it ever been truly *shown*? When have we had to confront, as we surely must, the raw experience of it, the hell of it, the brutality, indignity and rage? Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave supplies all of the above in shattering doses…..” — The Telegraph

“…..[’12 Years A Slave’] 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….” — The Wall Street Journal

While critical acclaim has already been achieved — evidenced impressively with a 96 percent positive or “fresh” as it’s known at Rotten Tomatoes — and Oscar nods surely will follow, what remains to be seen is the degree of box office success as the film opens nationwide in wide release; having had its premiere at the Telluride Film Festival and its open in limited release in New York and L.A. Will audiences flock to see this unflinching examination of history that, more than 150 years later seems more challenging than ever to confront and acknowledge?

See the official trailer below.

Pictures: PR Photos

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