Review: 12 Years a Slave

twelve_years_a_slave12 Years a Slave

  • Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor (Children of Men), Michael Fassbender (Prometheus), Benedict Cumberbatch (Atonement) and more.
  • Directed by: Steve McQueen (Shame)
  • Synopsis: “12 YEARS A SLAVE is based on an incredible true story of one man’s fight for survival and freedom.  In the pre-Civil War United States, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery.  Facing cruelty (personified by a malevolent slave owner, portrayed by Michael Fassbender) as well as unexpected kindnesses, Solomon struggles not only to stay alive, but to retain his dignity.  In the twelfth year of his unforgettable odyssey, Solomon’s chance meeting with a Canadian abolitionist (Brad Pitt) forever alters his life.”
  • Rating: Rated R for language, intense violence and torture, nudity, sexual content and thematic elements.
  • Must-Watch Trailer:
  • Review:

Directed by Steve McQueen (Shame), 12 Years a Slave is a film based on the true story of Mr. Solomon Northup, an established, beloved and accomplished freeman from upstate New York in the 1840s who was abducted, uprooted from his family and way of living, transported South and sold into slavery. This time period drama, adapted from the autobiographical novel of the same name that was authored by Northup himself, stars a plethoric cast and is a story of importance, relevance and beauty.12years16f-2-web

Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Northup (alongside, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti, a McQueen castmember favorite Michael Fassbender and several others) and brings a performance that portrays not only the physical toil of this wronged man but also the spiritual, mental and emotional turmoil he suffered and causes viewers to live a part of it with him.


In this unintended tragic journey on his path in life, Northup encounters violence, hatred, cruelty and more with one thing on his mind: returning to the life he once had and his wife and two children. Films such as this perhaps need no warning given the subject matter and time period, but audience members would do well to remember to expect time and attention given to the cruelties seen as more commonplace than not in the mid-1800 slavery-driven South. Some scenes, tough to watch, will remind viewers of scenes from the likes of AmistadRoots and, more recently, Django Unchained and are given lengthy runs onscreen adding to the emotional toil.12

An incredible story worthy of being told in a manner that is strong and does not shy away from the brutal and barbaric conditions of Northup’s plight, McQueen impressively takes viewers on a rollercoaster of experienced emotions (anger, sadness, joy, hope and sorrow).12-Years-A-Slave-Trailer

While it is impressive, I did have a few issues with the film. Yes, it is sure to push a few buttons with people in the way in which the camera lingers on scenes of torture and brutality; and, yes, it is sure to make a few people grimace with the time-period usage of the n-word; and yes, the musical score is not “signature” (no one listening to the soundtrack in a year will be able to say “Oh yes, that’s from 12 Years a Slave!” because it uses the exact same motif over and over again that Zimmer also used in Inception-I kept thinking about the spinning top whenever I heard it.), despite its beauty. But the main issue I had with the film was its presentation of the passing of time…because there really was none, or perhaps it could be argued that it was too subtle. 12 Years a Slave lacks in its sense of time while telling the tale. Watching the film, no one would know that 12 years transpire were it not for the title of the film itself and a little bit of gray hair added. At the most, until the end when time is “reintroduced” if you will, it may seem that perhaps 3-5 years transpire when in actuality it was far more.hith-12-years-a-slave

That, added with the lack of explanation of a few minor details, takes this film with amazing performances full of weight, authenticity and power and lowers it a tad from my initial expectations. Northup’s account as told by McQueen, nonetheless, is still masterful, mindful and moving.

The delicacy used in presenting the material along with the dedication of staying close to the source makes 12 Years a Slave a journey in time with a timeless message of hope and the power of it. 

My Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars for 12 Years a Slave


*I will say though, I would be lying if I didn’t think about seeing Django pop in with his blue suit, guns a-blazing, while rolling through the cotton field on his horse as I watched this movie. 😉 But that’s an entirely different film altogether!


(Remember, to read this review of mine and over 250 more, check out THE ARCHIVE of movies I have reviewed anytime. Know before you go…or rent…or buy!)


Thanks for reading! Happy Watching!

T, The Focused Filmographer


  1. Thanks so much for your thoughts on this film, T. I am looking forward to this, though steeling myself for the intense experience, as so many have already commented on. I hope to come back and let you know what I, no doubt, will feel toward it.


      • After taking this in, all I can say that it was quite an experience. Probably the most powerful film I’ve seen this year. I did like it more than you (4 stars), but I do believe your criticisms are valid, T. The editing and management of time within the story, specifically. Certainly, given that it’s based on a true story, it did remind me of Schlinder’s List in its power and affect on those watching the film. Last night, I found myself waking at 3am and feeling it an effect upon thinking/dreaming of what I had just seen.


  2. Felt like a movie I respected more, than I actually liked. However, what a freakin’ movie it was, and one that will definitely be remembered come Oscar-time. No doubt about that. Nice review T.


  3. Beautiful review T! It’s been a while since I saw this and one I have yet to review (for one reason or another), but I still remember some scenes vividly. I love what you said about Ejiofor’s performance “…brings a performance that portrays not only the physical toil of this wronged man but also the spiritual, mental and emotional turmoil he suffered and causes viewers to live a part of it with him.” Yes indeed, I hope he gets recognized for this as he’s been too long overlooked.

    I hear ya about the time thing, I feel that way at times. I mean it didn’t derail the film by any means but given that the title has the number of years on it, it should’ve been handled better.


  4. Fantastic review. Mine went up today as well. You make a fantastic point about the issue of time. I never got any sense that 12 years had passed. The movie certainly doesn’t relay that at all. I had a few bigger gripes with it but as a whole the power and the emotion of the film really work for me.


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