12 Years a Slave - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

12 Years a Slave Reviews

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Steven Rea
Philadelphia Inquirer
January 13, 2015
It speaks to the courage and resilience of one man, the savagery of many, and the potential, for both good and for ill, in us all.
Full Review | Original Score: 4/4
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Scott Marks
San Diego Reader
January 13, 2015
In its own saintly manner, it's as exploitative as anything critics accused Django Unchained of being, minus Tarantino's eye for idiosyncrasy and sense of humor.
Full Review | Original Score: 1/5
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Tom Huddleston
Time Out
January 7, 2014
The cumulative emotional effect is devastating: the final scenes are as angry, as memorable, as overwhelming as anything modern cinema has to offer.
Full Review | Original Score: 5/5
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Dana Stevens
Slate
December 31, 2013
So overpowering is this film's simple, horrible, and almost entirely true story that it's hard to get enough distance on 12 Years a Slave to poke at its inner workings.
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Chris Vognar
Dallas Morning News
December 31, 2013
Every scene of 12 Years a Slave, and almost every shot, conveys some penetrating truth about America's original sin.
Full Review | Original Score: A
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Wesley Morris
Grantland
December 10, 2013
The power of McQueen's movie is in its declaratory style: This happened. That is all, and that is everything.
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David Thomson
The New Republic
November 25, 2013
It is a film that necessity and education demand seeing.
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Mick LaSalle
San Francisco Chronicle
October 31, 2013
It provokes recognition in us of the very heart of darkness. It makes the unimaginable imaginable.
Full Review | Original Score: 4/4
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Moira MacDonald
Seattle Times
October 31, 2013
"12 Years a Slave" isn't easy to watch, and it shouldn't be; it's one man's tragedy, but it's also the tragedy of countless thousands of souls beaten down, literally and metaphorically.
| Original Score: 4/4
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Colin Covert
Minneapolis Star Tribune
October 31, 2013
The film is both brutal to watch and stunning to contemplate, powerfully challenging audiences - particularly white audiences - to examine their consciences.
Full Review | Original Score: 4/4
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Bill Goodykoontz
Arizona Republic
October 31, 2013
Slavery is revealed for the unrelenting horror that it was. About time.
Full Review | Original Score: 5/5
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Calvin Wilson
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
October 31, 2013
One of the best and most courageous films of the year.
Full Review | Original Score: 4/4
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Rene Rodriguez
Miami Herald
October 31, 2013
12 Years a Slave is at times difficult to watch but always impossible to turn away from.
Full Review | Original Score: 4/4
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Randy Myers
San Jose Mercury News
October 29, 2013
This is not medicine for America to swallow; it's filmmaking of the highest caliber.
Full Review | Original Score: 4/4
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Tom Long
Detroit News
October 25, 2013
"12 Years a Slave" lays out an institution so twisted and wrong that its honest portrayal has been avoided for centuries. Yes, it's dark and brutal. It needs to be.
Full Review | Original Score: A
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Michael Sragow
Orange County Register
October 24, 2013
One of the finest historical movies ever made.
Full Review | Original Score: A+
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Cary Darling
Fort Worth Star-Telegram/DFW.com
October 24, 2013
But the much talked-about 12 Years a Slave is more than a beautifully shot art piece. It's history made violently real.
Full Review | Original Score: 5/5
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Ty Burr
Boston Globe
October 24, 2013
Other movies and books have gone here, but few so far and with such overwhelming clarity of purpose.
Full Review | Original Score: 4/4
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James Berardinelli
ReelViews
October 23, 2013
The film offers a formidable indictment of the cruelty of which human beings are capable.
Full Review | Original Score: 3.5/4
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Mara Reinstein
Us Weekly
October 21, 2013
So raw and distressing is this historical account of a true-life American slave, it's tempting to turn away from the screen. Or maybe just cover your eyes for a few minutes of respite. Try not to.
Full Review | Original Score: 3.5/4
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Christopher Orr
The Atlantic
October 18, 2013
12 Years a Slave is likely the most painful, clear-eyed feature ever made about American slavery. In that light, it almost seems faint praise to add that it will also likely prove to be the best film of the year.
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October 18, 2013
It is Ejiofor - bewildered, sorely tested, morally towering - whose staggered dignity anchors the film.
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Peter Rainer
Christian Science Monitor
October 18, 2013
Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave, written by John Ridley and starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, is a necessary corrective to the antics of Django Unchained, not to mention Mandingo and its ilk.
Full Review | Original Score: B
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Liam Lacey
Globe and Mail
October 18, 2013
12 Years a Slave, British director Steve McQueen's antebellum Southern drama, sets a new standard in realistically depicting American slavery.
Full Review | Original Score: 4/4
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Susan Wloszczyna
RogerEbert.com
October 18, 2013
"12 Years a Slave" is a somber, meditative, almost poetic film that delivers the horrors of bondage stripped down and head-on.
Full Review | Original Score: 3.5/4
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Lou Lumenick
New York Post
October 18, 2013
A brutally powerful and emotionally devastating film that takes great pains to rip any lingering vestiges of romanticism from America's most shameful institution.
Full Review | Original Score: 4/4
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Stephen Whitty
Newark Star-Ledger
October 18, 2013
Remarkable.
Full Review | Original Score: 4/4
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Andrew O'Hehir
Salon.com
October 17, 2013
"12 Years a Slave" offers no false Hollywood catharsis along with its muted happy ending, because we're not free from the curse of slavery yet. Looking at it, as it really was, is a start.
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Kenneth Turan
Los Angeles Times
October 17, 2013
When a director who never ever blinks takes on a horrific subject, a nightmare in broad daylight is the inevitable result. Welcome, if that is the right word, to the world of 12 Years a Slave.
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Claudia Puig
USA Today
October 17, 2013
The harrowing 12 Years a Slave is a mesmerizing period drama for the ages.
Full Review | Original Score: 4/4
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Joe Morgenstern
Wall Street Journal
October 17, 2013
It 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.
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Ann Hornaday
Washington Post
October 17, 2013
McQueen doesn't go in for a lot of flash edits or self-conscious visual flourishes to put viewers at ease; rather, he invites the audience to sit with him as he gazes, amazed, at man's inhumanity to man ...
Full Review | Original Score: 4/4
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Michael Phillips
Chicago Tribune
October 17, 2013
A film this good, and this quietly distinctive in its style, is always welcome.
| Original Score: 4/4
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Joe Neumaier
New York Daily News
October 17, 2013
A harrowing, unforgettable drama that doesn't look away from the reality of slavery and, in so doing, helps us all fully, truly confront it.
Full Review | Original Score: 5/5
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Rafer Guzman
Newsday
October 17, 2013
"12 Years a Slave" works on so many levels -- some topical, some timeless -- that it's almost impossible to count them.
Full Review | Original Score: 4/4
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Peter Travers
Rolling Stone
October 17, 2013
You won't be able to tuck this powder keg in the corner of your mind and forget it. What we have here is a blistering, brilliant, straight-up classic.
Full Review | Original Score: 4/4
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A.A. Dowd
AV Club
October 17, 2013
Channeling the evils of human bondage through the experiences of one weary figure, McQueen has constructed another intensely physical character study about a man trapped in his own flesh.
Full Review | Original Score: A-
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Manohla Dargis
New York Times
October 17, 2013
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.
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J. R. Jones
Chicago Reader
October 17, 2013
Slavery here is not only a great moral darkness but a sweeping canvas for depicting the emotional deformities of the people who enforced and exploited the practice.
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Jocelyn Noveck
Associated Press
October 16, 2013
The film truly belongs to Ejiofor, whose big, soulful eyes seem to register so many things at once: Shock, pain, grit, determination, abject despair at times, cautious hope at others - and always, dignity.
Full Review | Original Score: 4/4
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Stephanie Zacharek
Village Voice
October 16, 2013
Aside from a characteristically nuanced lead performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor... it's a picture that stays more than a few safe steps away from anything so dangerous as raw feeling.
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Rex Reed
New York Observer
October 16, 2013
If the best films hold you in a captive vise, entertain you, keep you spellbound and teach you something at the same time, then 12 Years a Slave is outstanding-brave, courageous and unforgettable.
Full Review | Original Score: 4/4
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Richard Roeper
Richard Roeper.com
October 15, 2013
Brave performances throughout this magnificent film.
| Original Score: 5/5
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David Denby
New Yorker
October 14, 2013
12 Years a Slave is easily the greatest feature film ever made about American slavery.
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David Edelstein
New York Magazine/Vulture
October 14, 2013
It's smashingly effective as melodrama. But McQueen's directorial voice-cold, stark, deterministic-keeps it from attaining the kind of grace that marks the voice of a true film artist.
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Alonso Duralde
TheWrap
October 8, 2013
McQueen and Ridley seem determined to obliterate any lingering Gone With the Wind-inspired notions that the antebellum South was a place of grace and charm, or that slavery was, in the euphemism of the day, merely a "peculiar institution."
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Peter Howell
Toronto Star
September 14, 2013
Believe the Oscar buzz. Britain's Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame) nails the horror of America's slavery shame but also finds humanity in one man's determination to free himself and return to his family.
Full Review | Original Score: 4/4
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Joshua Rothkopf
Time Out
September 13, 2013
It's not too soon to call 12 Years a Slave a great film-ruined, tremulously sad, surreal in its evil.
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Richard Corliss
TIME Magazine
September 13, 2013
In the epic form of 12 Years a Slave, his most approachable, emotional film, McQueen escalates the tension.
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Owen Gleiberman
Entertainment Weekly
September 13, 2013
12 Years a Slave is a movie about a life that gets taken away, and that's why it lets us touch what life is.
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Todd McCarthy
Hollywood Reporter
September 13, 2013
A strong, involving, at times overstated telling of an extraordinary life story.
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Peter Debruge
Variety
September 3, 2013
This epic account of an unbreakable soul makes even Scarlett O'Hara's struggles seem petty by comparison.
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William Goss
Film.com
August 31, 2013
Northup's story was a true, terrible thing, and by virtue of telling it, the burdens of all American slaves are unflinchingly realized by Ejiofor and McQueen alike.
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Eric Kohn
indieWIRE
August 31, 2013
...a particularly noteworthy advancement in McQueen's already impressive filmography that funnels the cerebral formalism of his earlier features into a deeply involving survival narrative.
Full Review | Original Score: A+