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12 Years a Slave Review

Movies.com Critics

3.5

Dave White Profile

Beauty, meet Suffering. Now fight. Read full review

Other Critics provided by Metacritic.com

Critics scores range from 0 to 100, with higher scores indicating more favorable reviews.

  • 5.0
    97

    out of 100

    Metascore®
    Universal acclaim
    based on a weighted average of all
    critic review scores.

  • 100

    out of 100

    USA Today Claudia Puig

    The harrowing 12 Years a Slave is a mesmerizing period drama for the ages.

    Read Full Review

  • 100

    out of 100

    Time Richard Corliss

    A document that is raw, eloquent, horrifying and essential.

    Read Full Review

  • 100

    out of 100

    Variety Peter Debruge

    Though the film brims with memorable characters, the show ultimately belongs to Ejiofor, who upholds the character’s dignity throughout.

    Read Full Review

  • 100

    out of 100

    Wall Street Journal Joe Morgenstern

    Movie audiences have never been presented with anything quite like the intertwined beauty and savagery of 12 Years a Slave.

    Read Full Review

  • 100

    out of 100

    The New Yorker David Denby

    12 Years a Slave is easily the greatest feature film ever made about American slavery.

    Read Full Review

  • 100

    out of 100

    Chicago Tribune Michael Phillips

    While this is very much a McQueen picture, with visual flourishes and motifs unmistakably his, the historical urgency and staggering injustice of the events keep McQueen and company utterly honest in their approach and in their collective act of imagining Solomon Northup's odyssey to hell and back.

    Read Full Review

  • 90

    out of 100

    The Hollywood Reporter Todd McCarthy

    Perhaps the nature of the story is such that the film can’t help but be obvious and quite melodramatic at times, but it gets better as it goes along and builds to a moving finish.

    Read Full Review

  • See all 12 Years a Slave reviews at Metacritic.com

For Families provided by Common Sense Media

Pause for kids 14 & under

Imperfect but must-see epic drama with major cruelty.

What Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that 12 Years a Slave is a harrowing, moving drama based on a book written in the 1850s by Solomon Northup recounting his experiences as a slave, and it can be difficult to watch. There are scenes that show extreme brutality (beatings, hangings) and rough language (the use of the "N" word), and extreme emotional cruelty. Expect some slave market nudity, plus the sexual assault of a slave by a master. Very young teens and tweens may find it too intense, but older teens should watch it to bear witness to a tragic part of American history.

  • Families can talk about Northup's story: Have you heard of it before? If not, why not?
  • How is this movie different from, or similar to, others that explore the subject of racism and the history of slavery in this country?
  • Do you think the amount of violence in this movie helps viewers get a realistic understanding of the experience of slavery? Or is it gratuitous? Does the fact that the violence is in a historical context make it more (or less) tolerable?

The good stuff
  • message true4

    Messages: No one can take away your dignity or your identity, no matter how hard they try.

  • rolemodels true3

    Role models: Solomon Northup is steadfast: He will not let anyone rob him of his humanity and his central identity. Through decades of strife, he maintains a modicum of hope to fight against his despair. A few other characters display kindness in cruel times, specifically the Canadian abolitionist, Bass.

What to watch for
  • violence false3

    Violence: Characters are strung up on a tree and hanged; in one prolonged scene, one man struggles mightily not to be choked, and it's tough to watch him. Men and women are beaten, sometimes with whips, and publicly, too. The "N" word is hurled left and right; a master forces himself on a slave. Two men engage in a fistfight; another man is stabbed, his body hurled overboard a ship. One close-up shows the bloody aftermath of a horrible, extended lashing.

  • sex false3

    Sex: A woman grabs a man's hand and touches herself with it; it's more sad than sexy. Another scene shows men and women completely naked while "buyers" look them over. A master ogles his female slave.

  • language false3

    Language: "Whore" and the "N" word.

  • consumerism false0

    Consumerism: Not applicable

  • drugsalcoholtobacco false2

    Drinking, drugs and smoking: Some wine-drinking at dinner; later one of the men at the table is shown throwing up, as if he has drunk too much.

Fan Reviews provided by

5

12 Years a Slave by joycehannula
This is a powerful story of a free man who is captured and sold into slavery. He is moved from owner to owner, some more just than others. Beautifully filmed. I saw it last night and have thought about it several times already today.

5

Absolutley is movie of the year ! by baileybar
Heart wrenching and emotional this absolutely deserved the Oscar for movie of the year. The acting was superb by all the actors. Hard to watch, but a history lesson for all of us.

5

One of the Best Movie I have seen in a long time. by smssh2012
This movie made me cry, it made me mad and it made me appreciate my freedom. I cannot imagine the pain these people went through. This movie will hit you real hard. I absolutely loved it and will buy it when it comes on DVD. I heard people sobbing in the theater because some of the scenes are really raw. People were literally sitting at the edge of their seats. I was wiping my tears throughout the movie. This movie is depressing but it's very important for us to know what our ancestors went through to give us the life we have today.

4

Surprising by seemama123
The Acting was superb, I was aware of American Slave History, but seeing it from a different side was quite different. At times I felt like crying, and I am not surprised that these people get upset.

5

Excellent by mimsy61
This is not an easy movie to watch but it's incredibly important. The direction was superb and all the actors were topnotch. McQueen did a fantastic job of recreating the horrors of slavery and triumph of the human spirit.

5

Worthy of every Award it gets! by starrygirl2003
What an outstanding movie! The realism of what slavery was like back in the 1800s is really evident in Steve McQueen's mastery of directing. Great acting from Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and Luptia Nyong'o. Even Brad Pitt's minor role was well done. May not be suitable for kids, but definitely worth every penny you spend! This should win best picture!

5

12 Years a Slave by tprincejay
There were parts of the movie that was very hard to watch, however, it was a reminder of how things were during that very dark time period. Despite that, I thought the movie was very good and now I'm looking forward to reading the book.

5

Best Film of the Year? YES! by itneverrains
It is truly heart-wrenching and heart-breaking. But one of the best "team" effort films to ever come out of Hollywood. No detail is overlooked in bringing this horrible time in American history to life. This is an important story to tell, and re-tell, for generations to come. We must not ever forget. As a film, it is beautifully shot and extremely well-acted. It is disturbing in its graphic content, but every scene is key to telling this story. This is a must-see movie.

5

Incredible Movie by alisencj
I was on the fence about seeing this movie, mainly because of the subject matter at hand. The movie is incredible and is worthy of Best Picture. The acting is amazing...Fassbender, Chiwetal and Lyong'o at their finest. Yes, the movie is hard to stomach at times, but well worth it. You will not be disappointed.

4

A convincing lesson about inequality... by news728
If you care about history, are concerned about social injustices, want to better understand the human spirit and survival, these are all excellent reasons to see "12 Years a Slave". It's too serious for entertainment, too horrifying for the sensitive at heart, and enough to make even the most loving person feel hate and disgust for the blatantly inhumane attitudes of 19th century America. And yet, the acting, staging, character portrayal and set design contribute to the believability of his true story about Solomon Northup. It is people like Solomon, their stories and fight for equality that has ultimately altered the course of our history. It is worth the viewing of this movie just to understand the threat of human inequality and realize that it must be squelched at any cost. View this movie with an open mind and sensitive heart. * Excellent movie for high school students when followed-up with discussions lead by educators or religious leaders who have previewed the movie.

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