12 Years a Slave (2013)

12 Years a Slave (2013)
  • Time: 133 min
  • Genre: Biography | Drama | History
  • Director: Steve McQueen
  • Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, Brad Pitt


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) will forever alter his life.


  • 12 Years a Slave is Steve McQueen’s latest movie, based on the movie’s main character Solomon Northup’s book of the same name. As the title suggests, it’s a movie about slavery in the US, in the mid-1800s. Some people ask, why do we need another movie about slavery? We already know all there is to know about this subject! Well, I might be the only one, but this movie showed me at least one thing I didn’t know used to happen – and that is the kidnapping of free black man, to be sold as slaves.

    Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is an educated, free black man who lives in the 1841 Saratoga, New York, with his wife and two children, and plays the violin for a living. Two white man approach him one day, offering him a job: he accepts, and after he’s done, the two men take him out to dinner to celebrate his good work. He gets drunk and feels sick, so the two carry him back to the hotel and put him to bed – but in the morning, he finds himself in a barn, chained, and realising he can’t remember how he got there. A white man soon informs him that he’s a slave who will soon be taken to the South and sold.

    No matter the fact that you already know the life and suffering of black slaves in the States, 12 Years a Slave will still manage to shock and surprise you – starting from the kidnapping and stealing of Solomon’s free papers, up to the horrid life and working conditions in cotton plantations. Chiwetel Ejiofor leads the movie masterfully: in the few scenes with his family in the beginning, it’s easy to see that he loves his wife and kids very much; in the later scenes, when he doesn’t accept the state he’s been brought in and is therefore punished by his owners, we understand, better than ever, how hard it actually is for every human being to be forced into slavery; in his isolation from other slaves, we realise how different he is from them, because he never gives up the hope of some day being saved.

    While Chiwetel Ejiofor obviously leads the story, the supporting characters are wonderful and complete him in such a way, that this movie can be compared to a beautiful painting, or a delicious dish – everyone does his part and everyone is important. Benedict Cumberbatch is great in portraying Ford, the “good slave owner” – if there ever was such a thing – who forms a nice relationship with Solomon but has to sell him eventually. Michael Fassbender is one of the best, if not the best villain I’ve seen this year: simply the presence of his character, Edwin Epps, is extremely intimidating, and the way he treats his slaves makes you wish you could personally enter the movie to strangle him. Add to all of this the beautiful and occasionally shocking cinematography, and the wonderful songs the slaves sing while working, and you get one of the best movies of the year.

    Rating: 8/10

  • It took me a few minutes while the credits were rolling to muster the strength to physically stand up and walk out of the theater. This film completely floored me. It’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen many, many good movies. Everybody was superb. McQueen’s use of simple silence in this movie is so powerful. Chiwetel Ejiofor was so heart breaking in his performance. I felt so much compassion for the man that I had to remind myself it was just a movie. Michael Fassbender was completely ruthless and fascinating to watch unravel, and Benedict Cumberbatch’s short (unfortunately) spell in this movie was among my favorite aspects of the film.

    However, one name that hasn’t received nearly enough recognition is Lupita Nyongo’o. She played poor Patsy on Fassbender’s plantation. There’s a very prominent scene that I won’t spoil, but it involves gruesome images of slave life in the 1800’s. Her portrayal of Patsy was so emotional and traumatizing that you have no choice but to cry with her. She moves you. And that ending! Oh my God! Go see it. Now.

  • “12 Years a Slave” is a masterpiece! Brilliant, powerful, while also being incredibly difficult to watch. It takes you to the deepest, darkest depths of human suffering. But this really happened… This isn’t some outlandish exaggeration of the past. Chiwetel Ejiofor gives one of the most powerful performances I’ve seen in a long time. Even Michael Fassbender does a great job creating a character that you will hate. Hans Zimmer provides a haunting score to a haunting movie. But the star of the movie is Lupita Nyong’o, really great performance! It’s simply a movie that everyone should see. It is what I consider to be a perfect film, and there are not many that I would categorize as such. This movie is profound and is not less than extraordinary. I had very high expectations for this film, and ’12 Years a Slave’ exceeded my expectations. I very strongly recommend it.

  • After watching this movie my first thought was “Why is this so highly rated”, although by no means a bad movie. The story is one of shocking hardship and unfairness as experienced by our main character played by Chiwetel Ejiofor.

    Performances are ranging from average bad to good, with Fassbender’s dodgy accent and predictable character interpretation standing out as part of the weaker elements. Likewise Brad Pitt cannot be taken seriously, his one dimensional delivery destroys any narrative and leaves the associated components destitute of conviction.

    Several times I felt I could be watching a TV movie albeit one with a larger budget than normal. Considering the topic there was a lack of narrative emotion which was compensated by some scenes of brutality and “shock”.

    A better director could have created a much more immersive production that engaged the watcher with more depth. As it stands a harrowing story, in an average package with a sprinkle of cliché and unintentional irony.

  • (Rating: 4 + / 5) “12 Years A Slave” is an important and pretty good mess. Commits a large amount of errors, which are overcome by a handful of reasonably attractive virtues. It’s not a masterpiece, it’s not very memorable, is overrated… but still moving. It is true that Hollywood rewards films politically expedient, but it is also true that “12 Years A Slave” holds up very well after all

    Let’s get the errors: the first failure is the unfortunate decision to run the score “Solomon”, which is not a bad piece individually but applied in a dramatic film, further accentuates the drama. In some cases genuinely works on the movie but overall it is a wrong choice and dilutes the quality of the film to the level of a class B melodrama

    The second failure are male villains, who are poorly written and acted. Michael Fassbender is a good actor, but his performances never exceed the average and that also happens here. Paul Dano may be better in his performance, but the script shaping him as a cartoon character with no mercy over the protagonist. And Paul Giamatti, despite the few minutes, only generates more mediocrity with his irregular performance and presence

    The third flaw is that the director McQueen does not wait to the viewer slowly assimilate the drama and in less than 15-20 minutes the protagonist suffers beatings, so removes subtlety

    The fourth failure are occasional precious phrases. The fifth problem is its lack of originality, but this exceeds the core group of film and has to do with the overall cinema exploitation. It turns out that there are already thousands of movies showing us lashes, so this does not surprise us. Not the fault of the director or the script, because after all they are portraying the actual methods of that time. But when Lupita Nyong’o (deserved her Oscar) is lashed, is not very impressive

    (There is also another bug, but this is not very annoying: it does not seem they had spent 12 years in the film)

    But now come the virtues. The main thing is that the film sets up a state of fairly quiet, moderate mood; which is unusual for a genre that uses an argument as an excuse to show abuse (“Schindler’s List”). This is a film slowly, where violence is incidental and brutality is encrypted as routine. But McQueen is responsible for executing very well one of the best moments in the movie: the semi-hanging of Solomon. Here McQueen has given up blood or sharp blow and instead exchanged them for time: the scene lasts almost two minutes, where we see this man trying to put his toes in the mud floor. Other directors had impregnated screen with blood and fury, but this scene is disturbing without spilling a drop of blood

    Another virtue is the incorporation of a female villain. It’s actually a abrupt twist: for the first time, it seems that Michael Fassbender has controlled his wife, but then without us realizing it is the wife who dominates the situation. In addition, the performance of Sarah Paulson is not very sinister . But if you forget these details, it is disturbing that a woman is the most wicked. Although much blood is not displayed, she breaks a bottle on the head of the slave, and she destroys her ear removing earrings

    But what is really amazing in this film is the sheer common sense that drives the protagonist, with the impressive Chiwetel Ejiofor performance who goes through all emotions. It’s amazing the common sense because one can imagine in the same place, as if you were the slave: the protagonist is not strictly a bait. Obeys his bosses because is his destination as a slave, but when an order is absurd and punitive (the confrontation with Paul Dano) he defends, when will be punished tries to run away but within a defined area (“run away” in the strictly sense would mean his death, then runs in circles), and yet shows a faith in God that sometimes moves. The scene where her friend Lupita Nyong’o is lashed is moved not because the lash, but because a little and hopeful rant Solomon says to his employers , where Solomon says they will have to answer for their sins in the eternal judgment. And when he is released and returns to be with his ​​family, is an admirably well written moment, with Solomon amicably knowing the new husband of his wife and “apologizing” (here the sheet music “Solomon” works). Undoubtedly, the survival logistic of the protagonist is addictively watchable

    “12 Years A Slave” is sloppy, and some negatively compared with the previous McQueen works. However, it is not bad, and it’s surprisingly emotional despite the easy melodrama. One can infer that “12 Years A Slave” is very good until it enters the melodrama, where lost

  • 12 Years A Slave

    My Rating: 8.5/10

    Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Solomon Northup, an American citizen from the state of New York. Solomon gets kidnapped and is forced to become a slave. Solomon, a man from a well off family, is brought to New Orleans to serve as a plantation worker. He then leads the torturous, brutal and agonizing life of a slave.

    In a game of chess, the white army battles the black army. This game ends with the winning side being either black or white. That is not how it works in ’12 Years A Slave.’ Here, only the White gets to win.

    Taken away from his wife and two children, Solomon suffers under his various masters throughout the film. He is beaten and harassed in several different ways. He and several other fellow slaves are given standing instructions on how to live and how to work. Anyone who fails to follow orders gets beaten with a whip or even hung to death.

    It was fearful to see how any man can go to any extent of cruelty just to remind another that they are of lesser status than them. The film is an eye opener to anyone who has never had insight into the harshness of racism and slavery. I personally felt angered and disturbed when I watched several dark skinned men and women tortured in the name of their skin tone. ‘Niggers’ as they called them never deserved what they got. They never deserved the punishments and they definitely did not deserve to be deprived of their families.

    Chiwitel does extraordinary work as an actor. The emotions he depicts on screen does justice to Jonathan’s character. He seems well versed with the concept of slavery.

    Brad Pitt plays a small yet important role in this film. He acts as Samuel Bass, a white man who works with the slaves. He takes pity on Solomon’s position after learning about his past and his family background.

    You dance when you are told to dance; you eat when you are told to eat and you sleep when you are told to sleep. This was the life of every single slave. This is definitely not a life any human should lead. Solomon and the other slaves like him went through this for several years of their lives. Some get killed but as bad as it sounds, they were lucky to die.

    Does Solomon die? No. Something special happens to Solomon. I would definitely rate this film very highly because of the exposure it offers to the life of a slave in the United States.

    I am a changed man after watching this film. I’m sure you will be too. Say no to racism.

  • My sentimentality stretches the length of a coin.

    “12 Years a Slave” is an impressive adaptation of the diary of Solomon Northup, a free man who lived in Washington with his family in 1840. He’s approached by two businessmen who offer him a lucrative job in a circus as a musician. Solomon is drugged and abducted to the Southern states of America to be sold there as a slave. What follows is a gripping and horrific tale of a man who tries to survive in inhuman conditions and suffers under the authority of the white plantation owners who rule with a severe hand and who judge over the fate of these Afro-Americans.

    At times it’s painful and unbearable to watch certain images. The helplessness on the faces and the hopeless situation of these people was distressing to see. The moment they arrive in New Orleans there is that momentary image of chained blacks with amputated hands and an apathetic resigned expression on their face. These Afro-Americans were seen purely as goods : assessed as an ordinary horse and if they no longer meet the requirements, they were simply removed. The whole movie is a picture of humiliation, abuse and torture. The feeling of disgust was never far away.

    The settings and decoration of the entire film was stunning. The whole movie breathed the spirit of that time, both in Washington and in the southern states. Washington looked like a prosperous sophisticated city. The southern part looked sultry and dusty. You could feel the oppressive heat blasting of the screen and you could almost smell the sweat (by fear and efforts). Beautiful outdoor shots and impressions alternated with shabby huts and decay .

    An impressive cast has also been incorporated. I must admit that I had never heard of Chiwetel Ejiofor . Till now he had the status of “that-guy-who-also-plays-in-that-movie”. That will change now I guess and his (difficult) name will now sound more familiar. However, he also starred in ” Salt ” and “American Gangster” to my surprise. In this movie he plays the role of his life and it’s well worth an Oscar nomination. It’s sublime to see how he brings the metamorphosis of an articulate and accepted person into a humiliated and silence imposed slave. A variety of facial expressions pass by: enjoying first, then desperate, humiliated and submissive, anger and resentment, sense of justice and compassionate, and then relieved and remorseful. The whole pallet he apparently plays effortlessly. Michael Fassbender is far better in this movie as the cruel, despotic and demonic Edwynn Epps, than when he played the counselor in “The counselor”. At this time he is number one on my list of most sadistic and disgusting movie characters. A figure who adores his dominance, uses a young girl for his personal enjoyment to the annoyance of his wife and apparently has a drinking problem causing unpredictable and dangerous mood swings .The unknown Lupita Nyong’o can look back on a matchless performance and is clearly launched in Hollywood land . What a wonderful achievement!

    Cumberbatch his contribution was unfortunately limited. At times the figure Ford came across as an affable man who could muster some compassion. But ultimately they were for him purely an investment, not more than that. The moment Solomon arrives at Ford’s estate together with a bereaved mother, who was painfully separated from her children, Ford’s wife showed a perfect display of the attitude in those parts at that time. First she is compassionate and concerned. Subsequently she advices a necessary hearty meal for the woman and says that she’ll forget about her children after a few days. This sad woman is also removed afterwards because she’d likely affect morale. There are also short performances (but not the least) by Paul Giamatti as the shrewd slave trader , Paul Dano as the cruel Tibeats (recently he played a brilliant part in “Prisoners”) , Sarah Paulson as the wife of Epps (Mary Lee in “Mud”) and Brad Pitt. The latter had a substantive and crucial role in this movie. He’s finally the one who ultimately gave Solomon his freedom back. Whether Pitt had to play it or not is another question. It could have been anyone else in my opinion, but his name will probably ensure extra attention, I suppose.

    So it’s a compelling and poignant movie about one of the blackest pages in American history. The strongest point was the lengthy scene where Solomon dangles on a string and in the background everyone slowly goes back to what he or she was doing, as if nothing is happening. The fact that other slaves aren’t conversing that much, makes complete sense. The lesson was to say as little as possible, let alone that it would come out that you can read and write. As someone also warned “Unless you want to be a dead nigger.”.

    And yet this film is not one that stands above everything else. Notwithstanding that this period may never be forgotten, at the end I had a ” Here we go again ” feeling. It’s not that long ago we saw ” Django Unchained ” , “The Butler ” and “Lincoln”. Plus the fact that there were television series shown in the past like “Roots” and “North and South”. I hope that we can let this topic rest for a while now. I also found it strange that although Solomon demonstrates intelligence and seems to be a wise and eloquent man, apparently it wasn’t a reason to start worrying. If I were a landowner I would get rid of him as soon as possible. Also the fact that despite the trials Solomon stayed calm at all times (until the reunion with his family), seemed a little excessive to me . And in addition, the film title itself tells the complete story. You can’t be surprised anymore or enjoy some ingenious found twist.

    A film that continues to resonate, a magnificent achievement in acting and for me an Oscar for Chiwetel Ejiofor . However, the movie itself is yet another one in a long row of the same.


  • “Days ago I was with my family in my home. Now you tell me all is lost, tell no one who I am and that’s the way to survive. I don’t want to survive. I want to live.”

    12 Years a Slave has only been in theaters a couple weeks, but critics who applaud or shun the film are both left with a common reaction when the credits rolled—stunned.

    Since winning the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, the positive response to the film has since been met with criticism and dissatisfaction toward the gruesomely realistic glimpse at the antebellum South. The film tells the true story of Solomon Northup (British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man living in New York, who is kidnapped in 1841 and sold down the river to the owner of a cotton plantation in Louisiana. Many people are asking if we really need another slave movie?

    But that’s exactly what it’s not. Director Steve McQueen’s 12 Years is not intended to re-expose the weakness of black culture’s roots nor is it intended to re-slap America on the hand bestowing another moral hangover. The argument “haven’t I seen this before?” is surfacing across the Internet, but the gravity of McQueen’s exposure of slavery as an economic necessity and the concept of slaves as property resonates far greater than any pre-Civil War period piece.

    A 2011 CNN poll showed that when asked about the Civil War, around 1 in 4 Americans sympathized more with the Confederacy than with the Union. And 42% believed slavery was not the main reason the Confederacy seceded. Obviously movies are not responsible for the discrepancies in opinion, but the history of American slavery hasn’t received a fully honest portrayal prior to this year on film.

    From Birth of a Nation to Gone With the Wind, inaccurate depictions of the South coupled with the romanticized Tara plantation life successfully covered the skeletons hanging from the bloody Oaks. In a letter to a fan, Gone with the Wind author Margaret Mitchell proved to have a skewed vision of the institution, “I am happy to learn that Gone With the Wind is helping to dispel the myth of the South that Uncle Tom’s Cabin created.” Since then we’ve been given the 1977 miniseries Roots (1977), which became the first real attempt at exposing the brutality of slavery, but faltered while focusing on the African American experience as a whole. Steven Spielberg’s Amistad (1997) uncovered the slave mutiny aboard the slave ship Amistad; however, it was another missed opportunity focusing on courtroom debate involving founding fathers and abolitionist lawyers. Fifteen years later Quentin Tarantino gave us the highly entertaining empowerment revenge story with Django Unchained, but ultimately proved more entertaining than a realistic portrait of history.

    I too had my gripes with some aspects of the film; wanting just a little more and hoping for greater character development involving the relationship between Northup and other slaves. However, that’s not the direction McQueen wanted to take us in. McQueen carefully juxtaposes the evil and misery of slavery aside the beautiful, Oak-filled plantations. Like a fly on the wall, McQueen made me feel like a witness in the background of the monstrosity.

    The film is carried by possibly the best ensemble cast I’ve seen this year— Michael Fassbender as the menacing slave owner was fully committed to the loony, inhumane and unpredictable behavior of Edwin Epps. Newcomer Lupita Nyong’o gave a more convincing performance of ultimate despair and desperation than most actors with Academy Awards under their belt. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Northup was right on target–Ejiofor’s extreme close ups were uncomfortably intimate leaving me paralyzed in my seat. Sarah Paulson, who plays Mistress Epps, gives one of the most subtly haunting performances in the film which elicits an uncommon presentation of pure evil in her calm demeanor.

    The majority of the film is unsettling to watch and crosses a visual boundary of unmarked territory that some critics couldn’t stomach.

    If the only conversation some critics can muster post-viewing contains howls of discomfort, than I must congratulate McQueen for tapping into a buried subconscious by exposing the reality of the real American horror story.

    Other critics have found dissatisfaction in the film’s protagonist as an exception to the system who “wasn’t supposed to be there, and his captivity ended with him reunited with his family—makes it, on one level, a familiar story: One man survives the odds, through some unbreakable psychic integrity.” The notion that American entertainment “understands suffering is as a prelude to catharsis” is based on a cinematic pattern that even Stanley Kubrick, a friend of Steven Spielberg, pointed out with Schindler’s List despite his admiration of the film, “Think that’s about the Holocaust? That was about success, wasn’t it? The Holocaust is about 6 million people who get killed. Schindler’s List is about 600 who don’t.”

    When asked why he wanted to tell the story of Solomon Northup, McQueen said, “I live in Amsterdam, where Anne Frank is a world treasure. [When I found this book,] I thought, ‘My God, this is Anne Frank, but 100 years earlier. Why did I not know this book?’ But then I found out that hardly anyone knew this book; in fact, all the people I spoke to had no idea of the existence of this book. No one. And that’s when I made it my passion to make this book into a film.”

    In response to following a protagonist who survives versus the story of the masses, McQueen said, “The reason I took this angle is I wanted that person to be everyone in the audience. Someone who can take you, the audience, in this unfortunate conveyor belt of slavery. This is a story about one of the harshest structures that’s ever been created in the history of the world. It’s somebody trying to survive that with their mind intact and they do.”

    Whether or not audiences relate with one hero in slavery versus the masses enslaved, one point is undeniable—it’s not only an important film, it’s a necessary one. This film offers a new platform of vital importance to our history—could it preach to the unconverted or educate those with little knowledge on American slavery? And, more importantly, how adequately has the South learned from its greatest shame?

  • One problem with movies about slavery is that, in order to portray its dehumanizing evils, there seems to be no way around dehumanizing its characters. “12 Years a Slave” (R, 2:14) manages to solve this problem. While making the lives of slaves look and feel more real than most portrayals of the subject, this film also manages to humanize the slaves’ suffering – and underlying dignity – more effectively than I’ve ever seen it done before. Besides all this, the film educates its audience about a topic as well-known as slavery by showing a permutation of its injustice that has rarely, if ever, appeared on screen before.

    This film tells the true story of Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), an educated, black middle-class family man who lived in upstate New York, until he was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the Deep South. He ends up serving two different masters (Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Fassbender). The former is relatively kind and the latter is very cruel (but, interestingly, both are seen using the Bible – in different ways – to keep their slaves under control, one of the many ways in which this film smartly puts slavery’s injustices and contradictions on full display). Solomon encounters a variety of other people who are party to his confinement and occupy various spots on the morality continuum (including brief but powerful performances by Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano and Brad Pitt). Solomon’s intelligence helps him to survive, but does little to solve the problem of his captivity. It’s not that he doesn’t try to regain his freedom, but the system is so stacked against him that every idea he considers and every plan he hatches crumbles before his eyes, steadily eating away at his remaining hope of freedom.

    The film’s title makes it obvious that Solomon isn’t still a slave at the movie’s end. How that freedom comes about is the question (for those of us previously unfamiliar with the history on which the film is based). Does Solomon escape? Is he freed by a sympathetic master? Is he discovered in captivity by someone who knows that he was a free man? Does his freedom come as naturally as it did for millions of other slaves in the Antebellum South – by death? Whether you know the ending, figure it out during the course of the movie or just sit back and absorb the story as it unfolds, Solomon’s experiences in his brutal and tragic enslavement, offer plenty to watch as we wait to see how these 12 Years will end.

    This film’s uniqueness in its depiction of slavery is brilliantly executed by screenwriter John Ridley and director Steve McQueen. Ridley’s dialog effectively portrays the relative intelligence of his disparate characters and reminds us of the eloquence with which many Americans used to speak, sounding almost Shakespearean at times. McQueen makes the audience feel like they’re part of the action by bringing his camera in very close at certain carefully chosen moments, and pacing the film in such a way that the characters’ emotions become our own, including the very uncomfortable feeling of being off balance, not knowing what’s coming next. The star’s performance was so strong that, when the 2013-2014 awards season arrived, we all had to learn to pronounce Chiwetel Ejiofor, much as, one year earlier, we had to learn the name of the young “Beasts of the Southern Wild” star Quvenzhané Wallis (who, interestingly, is also in this film). Although “12 Years a Slave” drags at times and stages its final scene rather awkwardly, overall, the film is a masterwork of story-telling and emotional resonance. “A-“

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