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330 of 380 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A soul crushing, spellbinding masterpiece
The difficulties of surviving as a slave are proven to be frantic right from the start of "12 Years a Slave." Thrown from abusive master to abusive master, small meal portions, tight living quarters, and if you're able to read and write you're beaten for it. You have no friends, are packed like sardines in a can whenever you're transported, and the struggle to survive...
Published 15 months ago by C. Sawin

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21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars good movie...but best of the year?
I expected more from this movie...although the acting was superb, I thought the film itself was choppy and drawn out. Being a true story, I appreciated learning about Solomon and this terrible part of American history. I just felt the movie itself lacked...continuity. The use of flashback was confusing, and his own family very underplayed, they should have been in it...
Published 10 months ago by M. Matter


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330 of 380 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A soul crushing, spellbinding masterpiece, October 25, 2013
This review is from: 12 Years a Slave (DVD)
The difficulties of surviving as a slave are proven to be frantic right from the start of "12 Years a Slave." Thrown from abusive master to abusive master, small meal portions, tight living quarters, and if you're able to read and write you're beaten for it. You have no friends, are packed like sardines in a can whenever you're transported, and the struggle to survive nearly outweighs the urge to live. Solomon's story is absorbing because his time as a free man is spliced into the film whenever he seems to drift off into his own world while he's a slave. His family and time as a free man are his comfort thoughts when he's not able to handle the harsh world around him.

The historical drama is immediately uncomfortable and difficult to watch as it takes little time before Solomon gets his first beating and it's just the tip of the iceberg as far as excruciating sequences go. The cast is extraordinary as you see extremely familiar faces pop up here and there; Benedict Cumberbatch as a Baptist preacher and slave owner, Paul Giamatti as a man in charge of selling slaves and getting the best price for them, and Brad Pitt as a Canadian carpenter with an Amish beard. Paul Dano continues his streak of impeccable performances. Dano's portrayal of sleaziness and smarmy characters reaches new heights in "12 Years a Slave." He is extremely unsettling in the film.

The two standouts of the supporting cast are Lupita Nyong'o as Patsey and Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps. Patsey picks the most cotton out on the field every day and Master Epps (Fassbender) takes a liking to her because of it. Nyong'o's suffering bleeds through in her performance in every gesture and facial expression. Patsey's journey is heartbreaking and you feel it deep within your soul. Her whip lashing later on in the film is powerful, agonizing, and nearly unbearable to watch without flinching. Fassbender has this demanding yet frightening presence on screen. Epps is a drunk with a short-temper and treats his slaves like property. He is physically and sexually abusive and just the devil reincarnated as far as slave owners go.

But of course the real gem of the film is Chiwetel Ejiofor. The English actor has so much talent and has been in several recognizable projects already, but the down side is nobody knows who he is. He will be a mainstay in the public eye after "12 Years a Slave." Ejiofor is an absolute beast in the film. If you weren't already sitting down, Ejiofor's performance would bring you to your knees because it's so devastating. The extended shots in the film, those ones that seem to last forever while everyone pretends not to see the disgusting event taking place right before them, will haunt you. The over the shoulder shots of kids playing in the background while someone is hanged. It's depressingly mesmerizing. Thinking on your toes has never meant more than during this film.

"12 Years a Slave" is a soul crushing experience. It's a film featuring no humanity and no kindness only damnation and desperation. You won't be the same after viewing it. It's as if a piece of you is left behind once it's over. "12 Years a Slave" strips you naked, verbally abuses you, puts you in restraints, and whips you bloody until you're so battered and beaten you think you're going to die. Then it ties a noose around your neck and hangs you out to dry. As you choke and gasp for air and begin to turn blue, the ropes loosen slowly. A small glimmer of hope emerges and you can breathe again. You will live to see another day, but your life will forever be changed because of it.

"12 Years a Slave" will leave you broken and it's difficult to imagine a repeat viewing, but it's also the most respectable and melancholy experience you'll have this year. "12 Years a Slave" is an outstanding triumph in filmmaking since it's so unbelievably captivating yet will leave you feeling so undeniably uncomfortable as it takes pride in ripping your mortality to shreds over the course of two hours.
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177 of 213 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gut-wrenching history lesson by a masterful filmmaker, November 4, 2013
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This review is from: 12 Years a Slave (DVD)
Theatrical review. There may be spoilers.

It is unlikely anyone who goes to see this film won't have some idea about what it's about. There have been many fine films about slavery. And while 2012's "Django Unchained" certainly has violent elements associated with American slavery, that film and others often remind you that it's only a movie. This movie will draw you in and does so with the unique history of Solomon Northup, an actual freeman who lived a good life in Saratoga, New York. In 1841, he had a beautiful wife and 2 children (one played by Oscar nominee Quvenshane Wallis). He was a classical violinist and highly respected in the community.

Approached by a pair of "gentlemen" (including a couldn't-believe-my-eyes Taran Killam from "Saturday Night Live") Solomon (an amazing Chiwetel Ejiofor) is enticed by a financial offer to play a gig in Washington, D. C. Once there, he is kidnapped, shackled and sent by steamer to New Orleans. Upon his arrival he is sold as an escaped slave. During this first act, Solomon must quickly learn how to behave, how to act. Just to stay alive. Even talking is frowned upon, so Ejiofor must speak to the audience with his eyes and his expressions to project the torment he is experiencing. Director Steve McQueen often focuses the camera on faces to bring out the pain of the oppressed as well as the viciousness of the oppressors. McQueen doesn't shy away from anything so be prepared.

Slaves, both men and women, are herded together like cattle. They are stripped, hosed down and sold naked. It is hard to watch. Even harder, mothers and children are separated. This is gut-wrenching story telling. Solomon, now called Platt, must hold it together, keeping his wits so that he can eventually reunite with his family. Solomon is first sold to Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), a man of some benevolence as slave owners go. He gives Solomon a violin. He is relatively kind. He is portrayed as a man who is uncomfortable with his position but must accept his role as master. When Ford's cotton crop is infested with disease, he must transfer ownership of some of his slaves and does so to Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender in another great performance).

Epps is a polar opposite to the meek-mannered Ford. He is vicious and violently sadistic. As noted above, McQueen and his photographer bring out the evil in Fassbender's performance. Epps is not only focused on teaching Solomon a lesson, he always has eyes for a slave known as Patsey (newcomer Lupita Nyong'o). She is but a wisp of a woman but always picks more cotton than any of the men. She is regularly raped by Epps, to the point he doesn't even hide it from his wife (Sarah Paulson). This means that Patsey not only receives harsh treatment from Edwin but from his wife in equal measure. Solomon does his best to comfort Patsey, but has his own agenda.

In one sequence Solomon trusts a white slave (who knew?), under Edwin's control to work off a debt, with the promise to mail a letter back to his family. The man is paid what few coins Solomon had and upon his release promises to mail the yet written letter. Instead, he rats out Solomon to Epps. When confronted, a tired Solomon must quickly formulate a lie. Looking Epps directly in the eye, Solomon without a quiver, delivers a believable story without hesitation. Remarkable stuff.

Remember what I said about "it's only a movie?" There is one shattering scene where Solomon is forced by Epps to whip the stripped Patsey as punishment for her wandering off to a nearby plantation. And for a while, as uncomfortable as it is to watch, we only see the pain in Solomon's face as he lashes Patsey. OK, enough already right? Instead, McQueen swivels his camera around the tree to see the peeled and scarred back of the woman as the whip tears off her skin. This is tear-inducing filmmaking on many levels, but this scene induced many gasps from the audience and a couple walk-outs.

But McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley want audiences to see the evil and feel the pain in the film. And boy do they succeed. I would be remiss if I didn't talk about some of the technical elements of the film. During some of the difficult scenes rather than averting my eyes, I was able to focus briefly on some of the great photography in the film. As unusual and contradictory as it may seem, "12 Years" is technically masterful. The soft glow of the cotton fields, the hazy setting of the sun, the insect spreading its wings, somehow add a respite of civility to this great film of a disgraceful American past. Look for Oscar nomination for actors Ejiofor, Fassbender and Nyong'o, director McQueen and more.
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134 of 172 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A best film of all times **a spoiler-free review**, November 17, 2013
This review is from: 12 Years a Slave (DVD)
Solomon Northup was a real person with a wife and children doing well as a talented musician living in New York in 1841. He is tricked into being kidnapped, and then is chained, beaten, broken down, re-named (now called "Platt"), transported and sold into slavery in Louisiana. Northrup is one of the very few people to have escaped this terrible plight and, eventually, return to his home and family.

This story is primarily about those 12 years a slave from the book Northup later wrote detailing the transition from free man to slave, the shocking living conditions and treatment of slaves in the south, and his own ordeal in the hands of three slave owners within a system of institutionalized captivity and abuse. His account provides a rare and incredible historic insight. The film is gritty, raw, real and details exactly how slavery "worked" in this country, including the many lines of defense to prevent escape, the extreme measures to deny freedoms, the ways slaves survived and did not, and the ill effects on the people committing or allowing such atrocities.

Torture and violence are set against an often beautiful scenic background, a physical example of the many contrasts presented in this film. The characters are complex and many insights into that time in history are revealed as well as eternal truths about human nature, cruelty and kindness, survival and courage. In this beautifully shot, masterfully crafted film, the main actor Chiwetel Ejiofor makes you desperately feel each and every emotion Solomon experiences from a carefree stroll with his wife and children in New York all the way through his horrific ordeal until his reunion with his family 12 years later. Won't be surprised to see this one sweep the Academy awards and gain recognition as a best film of all times.
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21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars good movie...but best of the year?, March 9, 2014
By 
M. Matter (Aurora, CO USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: 12 Years a Slave (DVD)
I expected more from this movie...although the acting was superb, I thought the film itself was choppy and drawn out. Being a true story, I appreciated learning about Solomon and this terrible part of American history. I just felt the movie itself lacked...continuity. The use of flashback was confusing, and his own family very underplayed, they should have been in it more. What did they do when they realized he was gone? How did they cope all those years? Realizing it was based on the book, I think the movie still could have gone a little more outside of the pages to deepen the storyline. Solomon himself and his family deserved it.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Heart-Rending... but not ground-breaking, March 23, 2014
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This review is from: 12 Years a Slave (Amazon Instant Video)
I cried during the whipping of Patsy, and more at the end of the movie when he was reunited with his family. This movie does one thing well: Pull at the heart strings. As for complexity of story there was very little. There seemed to me to be so much opportunity to feel the anxiety of the slaves, the fear they felt of the future when in troublesome situations, the hope and the bonds they felt, or the mourning of their numbed consciences and lost feelings due to witnessing and being the subjects of the dehumanizing effects of slavery. The actors were excellent all the way through, but they were all asked to play very simple one-dimensional roles, in my opinion, and I see that a very significant number of reviewers, even those who liked the movie like I did, shared this opinion that the actors were given very static roles to play. This movie is the kind of movie that I think is worth watching once and having a soul washing cry that makes you want to walk away thinking of love, and justice, and charity... but I don't think I need to revisit the scene over and over again. I think that the one time a year where we need to stare at such injustice of an innocent man being flogged and beaten, and pushed under the injustice of the world, we should do that on Good Friday when Jesus is hanging on the cross for the world's sins. That was something that the slaves all did more frequently than the rest of us, because they so much shared in his experience, and that is what that song they sang "Roll, Jordan, Roll" meant.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great opportunity missed, May 8, 2014
By 
This review is from: 12 Years a Slave (DVD)
Alert: If you have not seen the movie there might be some spoilers

I must confess I did not read the book but was told the movie was great and worthy of the Oscars. I disagree on both counts. Was the movie good, yes, there is no doubt about it but so much history was left out that should have been delved into. The fact that free black men lived, thrived, were respected and even owned business without repercussion should have at least been given more than a few minutes on screen. And unless you pay attention or know history, it will leave you confused. As confusing as when he was taken and sold. It should have at least explained the reason this was happening and with frequency during a part of American history when Congress had abolished slave trading so that no new slaves could be brought in from around the world. The only way to refresh the slave population was to kidnap the free black men from the North because they would not be known in the South and once in the hands of slavers your previous life is pretty much over and were given a new name and forged papers. Our country was divided and while slavery was a brutal trade it was not well received in many places, some of them even in the south.

Solomon Northup is a freeman living in New York and highly respected violinist, has a loving wife and 2 beautiful daughter he adores. Unfortunately he is tricked into a possible venture, drugged and sold. That too was downplayed and should have been given more attention since any family torn apart would have been devastated. Nor was there any mention of people and friends even trying to look for him which I am sure there were many.

After being stripped, hosed down and powdered(for lice) he is given clean, clothes and sent to a house where he and the other slaves are paraded like prize cattle for the shoppers to view. No amount of music(there is an all black orchestra playing soft classical music in the room) lace, wine or plates of hor d'oeuvres can mask the fact this is a slave market. It is a sad tragedy that many families were torn apart in the slave markets and this one is no different as a woman is bought but her two small children are taken away sold to others. If that scene does not grip you heart then nothing from there on will. Solomon endured 12 hellish years as he tries to conform or be severely beaten, traded from one abusive Plantation owner to another. Even his name has been changed and if hints of knowing how to read could find him at the end of a rope. It is sad when one whom he trusted turns against him and is left to hang and children are in the background playing, hardened to the reality of their life and what could happen to them.

He does try to get messages out but finds that anyone that he might trust is in fear of being caught aiding a slave so he continues in his existence but he never forgets who he is or where he came from. During his last years as a slave, he meets Patsy, a beautiful young woman who is the object of affection of the plantation master. Of course this does not sit well with his wife since he does little to cover the lust he has for her. She becomes a target not only for the master and his sexual whims but the wife who transfers all her hate, humiliation and obvious lack of love from her husband to Patsy. Patsy suffers tremendously and her story should have been given almost as much time as Solomon's because her plight was just as devastating as was the plight of most black women during these horrible times. She was severely whipped just to show that she was not that favored to appease the wife. Was Lupita Nyong'o deserved of an Oscar... my opinion is no... while her performance was excellent it was not stellar and she received almost as screen time as the plantation owners wife whose performance was equally good.

Brad Pitt enters late in the movie as a carpenter who is building a gazebo and he makes no attempt to hide the disgust he feels for the owning of slaves. But he is also a lone white man that must keep most of his opinon to himself for it is a very dangerous place he can find himself in. It is while constructing the structure he learns that Solomon is quite the learned man. And eventually he learns just who Solomon is and decides to help.

Of course we know that Solomon is rescued after 12 years of enslavement, and the man that comes to his aid is a white man who dares to stand up to the Plantation owner and promises legal reprisal for his treatment, kidnapping and abuse of Solomon. And here in my opinion is the saddest part of the movie as Solomon is led away, once again a freeman and the other slaves, Patsy included watch him leave knowing that for them there is no escape, no one is coming to free them, no one is going to rescue them.

He is reunited with his family and even that I bittersweet for him. The telling of his story in the movie(I did not read the book) should be made required reading or viewing to school children of all ethnic groups. It is a part of our history that needs to be retold, never forgotten without political correctness ever entering into it. It should be a discussion that should be held in the classrooms and in the homes partly because slavery, buying and selling of humans, particularly young women of all ethnic backgrounds, is still very much alive in other parts of the world with no one doing much of anything to stop it or turn a blind eye.

Was it a good movie, yes.. a sad, tragic and unrelenting part of our country's history that should never be forgotten or ignored... but a movie that could have been so much greater.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It took a Brit to Make a Truthful Film About American Slavery, September 10, 2014
By 
Joe V. (Chicago, IL) - See all my reviews
This review is from: 12 Years a Slave (DVD)
This has to be the best and most realistic film about slavery in America. It would take Steve McQueen, a black man from the UK, to produce and direct it. That says a lot about Hollywood, where for numerous years they either had blacks played by whites with blackface or they portrayed blacks as bumbling idiots. Sorry, Congresswoman Bachmann, slavery in America was not ended by America’s founding fathers as you so stupidly assert. This film deserves every award that it has received. And thank you Brad Pitt for having the wisdom and courage to help get this film made.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars For all its historical importance, not a great film, August 11, 2014
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This review is from: 12 Years a Slave (Amazon Instant Video)
I was ready for a great film, but was disappointed. The film felt curiously flat, the actors seemed to be 21st century people in costume. I learned nothing new about the terrible history and practices of slavery, the characters weren't really developed much beyond the reactions you would expect them to have to the circumstances they found themselves in.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully Filmed, Interesting Sound Track, But Mostly A Brutally Violent Cheap Entertainment. Read The Book., April 9, 2014
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This review is from: 12 Years a Slave (Amazon Instant Video)
If all you know about slavery (and Jim Crow) is what you learned in public school, it's safe to say you don't know anything about either, really. This movie isn't going to fill in the blanks (the book, on the other hand, is a different matter entirely). The more I learn about both, the more I have to wonder if anything I was told about America, growing up, was true. Slavery isn't merely a "regrettable chapter" in American history; it's a primary and integral aspect of our history and national character, and as such, a deformity every bit as unappealing to the eye as missing or deformed limbs, or a severely scarred face. This movie doesn't tell you about slavery, it distills the brutality, and the cruelty, and the misery from the book, leaving all the history, information, and especially the subtle distinctions of the book aside, like some sort of chaff. What you end up with is a beautiful cinematic ordeal, 2 hours or so of almost unending and near-pornographic violence. A white viewer might allow that he needs to endure it to "understand". If that's your view, read the book. Pretty much every white actor in the slave section of the film seems to have been cast because of the sharpness of his features, beady eyes, and his ability to hold a sneer. Everyone, even the slaves, are little more than stick figures given one task, either to be brutally cruel, or to evince suffering. You'd never know that Solomon Northrup said (if slavery were the only option, presumably) that if he had his family with him, he'd gladly have spent the rest of his life on Mr. Ford's plantation. You'd never dream that Northrup's view of Slavery sounds today like that of a Berkeley liberal, when talking about slavery as an institution so utterly corrupting and deforming that the slave owners couldn't really be blamed for their cruelty, as the system itself made them cruel. To illustrate this he gives the reader some incidents of white-on-white violence, including knife fights so nasty the combatants seem like animals.

But not in this movie.

This movie is almost 2 hours of inhuman cruelty and brutality, paired with suffering and misery. The difference between Ford and the more dastardly slave owners is portrayed as slight at best. The wives and kids are merely background props, and we get nothing of the background of the slaves---Northrup wasn't the only freeman kidnapped and sold into slavery, when he was taken in D.C. You learn nothing of cotton cultivation and harvest, let alone cane cultivation and harvest.

And nothing of course on the larger issues; That Slavery existed as it did, and Jim Crow was as intense as it was, not because of some moral defect in the Southern makeup, but because the Southerner tends to express in public what most of us in the rest of the country would only mention cautiously, and then in the most private of circumstances, if then. We may never use a racial epithet to describe black people as a group---"such a southern trash tendency" but in fact most northern whites saw the division of labor and wealth along race lines as perfectly natural, and never thought to question it, until forced to do so. So what does it matter what words we use, or avoid?

If you saw this movie, you really should read the book. It won't be the ordeal you might expect, and you'll learn so much more even if your dismay about the nation's shortcomings is not abated by having done so. If you haven't seen this ridiculous work, I suggest you skip it and read the book. Other good works on the subject of slavery includes "Black Cargoes" by Mannix/Crowley, and an interesting parallel to "12 Years A Slave" is "Skeletons On the Zahara" about a Yankee ship looking for slaves that runs aground on the west coast of Africa, and it's mostly white crew is captured by bedouin tribesmen, stripped naked (clothes are valuable) and enslaved----if you think you've had a sunburn, you have no idea how bad it gets! In other words, there are a lot of books out there that will bring you up to date on this horrible period in American history, without wasting your time on a film that puts all its eggs on a very violent cart that goes nowhere.
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38 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Soul-Rending and Inspiring, January 3, 2014
By 
Joshua Voiles (Salt Lake City, UT) - See all my reviews
Out of every movie I've seen throughout the last decade of my life - this is the only movie I deem as a "must see" - especially if you don't have the time to read the memoir by Solomon Northup.

Human history isn't pretty - and this movie makes no attempt to convey otherwise. In fact, there were a few extremely horrific and dramatic events that Solomon experienced that he recounts in his memoir that I'm surprised were left out of the movie, given that they would have made for some utterly intense scenes.

As some reviewers have mentioned, there were a few moments where one or two of the actors were slightly-less-than-believable, but in no way did I find it distracting from the story - especially when you couple your viewing experience with the book (also available on Amazon).

Whether you ever read Solomon's memoir of the same name or not, I feel that the creators absolutely did Solomon justice. This heart-wrenching story will make you cringe out of fear and anger as you witness what feels like pure evil, and weep from the bittersweet conclusion.

After having watched the film, I was glued to my seat in shock, with tears streaming down my face and a fierce gratitude burning in my chest the likes of which I have rarely--if ever--experienced.

I went home and quickly journaled:

"I will not take my freedom for granted. Nor will I squander it. If I ever am tempted to do so, I am grateful to have a powerful anchor I can refer back to, a chilling reminder of what it's like to not be free as a human being, via 12 Years a Slave. I will not forget it. I am a free man, and I am overcome with how privileged I am to be alive in this point of time."

May this movie serve you as a powerful reminder of the gift of your own freedom. In the awareness of just how free we are, we find drive to connect with, create in, and contribute to the world in which we're lucky to live in.
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12 Years a Slave by Steve McQueen
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