Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave is winning widespread praise for its unflinching—and brilliantly acted—portrayal of the horrors of slavery. The film, adapted from Solomon Northup's 1853 memoir, tells the story of a free man tricked into enslavement on a Louisiana plantation.
- "Movie audiences have never been presented with anything quite like the intertwined beauty and savagery of 12 Years a Slave," writes Joe Morgenstern in the Wall Street Journal. "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 US before the Civil War."
- The film is "a nightmare in broad daylight," writes Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times. "Obviously, no film can re-create the unspeakable degradation of one human being owning another, but in making the attempt, 12 Years insists we feel things in a particularly oppressive way. This is impressive filmmaking."
- It's "a mesmerizing period drama for the ages." Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor—whose "performance must certainly figure into the Oscar running"—as Solomon and Michael Fassbender as slaveowner Edwin Epps, alongside Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, and Lupita Nyong'o, the movie boasts "probably the finest cast of any film this year," writes Claudia Puig in USA Today.
- "In many respects, 12 Years a Slave works like a horror movie," though one infused with a "radiant aesthetic," observes Peter DeBruge in Variety. Audiences are forced to "confront concepts and scenes that could conceivably transform their worldview."