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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

    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

    Time Richard Corliss

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

    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

    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

    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 true1

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

  • rolemodels true1

    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 false2

    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 false2

    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 false2

    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.

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