Looking back at Steve McQueen’s ‘12 Years a Slave’


A post by Peter Jordens.

Now that the Oscar for 2013’s Best Picture has been added as a crowning piece to the long list of accolades received by Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, we may look back at some of the most laudatory reviews that this epic movie has received.

Reviews that drew attention to the movie even before it was released:

“More than a powerful elegy, 12 Years a Slave is a mesmerizing triumph of art and polemics: McQueen turns a topic rendered distant by history into an experience that, short of living through the terrible era it depicts, makes you feel as if you’ve been there.” — Eric Kohn, IndieWire (August 31, 2013), http://www.indiewire.com/article/telluride-film-festival-review-steve-mcqueens-12-years-a-slave-anchored-by-brilliant-chiwetel-ejiofor-is-a-slavery-movie-for-the-ages

“Stark, visceral and unrelenting, 12 Years a Slave is not just a great film but a necessary one.” — Paul MacInnes, The Guardian (September 7), http://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/sep/07/twelve-years-a-slave-review-toronto

12 Years is the closest we’ll get to slavery and I couldn’t handle being any closer. [… F]inally there is a Black director (with roots in the Caribbean) telling a story of the antebellum South — it’s about damn time. […] Equally grisly and beautiful, 12 Years a Slave is the reason why films are made. A movie you must-see […]” — Clay Cane, BET (September 13), http://blogs.bet.com/celebrities/what-the-flick/movie-review-12-years-a-slave

“While 12 Years a Slave doesn’t open until Oct. 18, I’ve seen it and can tell you it’s a work of art. McQueen, who is black and from the UK, has created a raw, unflinching look at a black man’s descent into one of the darkest chapters of American history. It’s as authentic as it gets.” — John Singleton, The Hollywood Reporter (September 19), http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/john-singleton-can-a-white-630127

American reviews:

“Mostly there is a rare feeling of watching greatness accumulate on a movie screen. There has never been a movie like 12 Years a Slave, which is Hollywood’s shame. Miss it, and that mistake is yours.” — Steve Persall, Tampa Bay Times, http://www.tampabay.com/things-to-do/movies/review-haunting-12-years-a-slave-is-powerful-groundbreaking/2151179

“[In this film] slavery is revealed for the unrelenting horror that it was. About time. 12 Years a Slave is a history lesson of the best type. It’s brilliant. But, more crucially, it’s important. It’s brutal truth that demands to be seen.” — Bill Goodykoontz, Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com/thingstodo/articles/20131031twelve-years-slave-movie-review.html

“Movie audiences have never been presented with anything quite like the intertwined beauty and savagery of 12 Years a Slave. […] Such is the power of this landmark event, […] that it seems certain to transcend the movie realm and become a new reference point in contemporary culture. […]The film is amazing.” — Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal, http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304410204579140152376832332

“Unflinchingly directed by Steve McQueen, led by Ejiofor’s magnificent work, 12 Years a Slave is what we talk about when we talk about greatness in film.” — Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun Times, http://www.suntimes.com/entertainment/movies/23162874-421/12-years-a-slave-about-bravery-full-of-brave-performances.html

12 Years a Slave is easily the greatest feature film ever made about American slavery.” — David Denby, The New Yorker, http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/cinema/2013/10/21/131021crci_cinema_denby

“A masterpiece of form, content, emotion and performance. […] Intense, unflinching, bold in its simplicity and radical in its use of image, sound and staging, 12 Years a Slave in many ways is the defining epic so many have longed for to examine – if not cauterize – America’s primal wound.” — Ann Hornaday, Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com/goingoutguide/movies/12-years-a-slave-movie-review-a-masterpiece-of-form-content-emotion-and-performance/2013/10/16/1b158e76-34e8-11e3-8a0e-4e2cf80831fc_story.html

12 Years a Slave [is] 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. McQueen has made a film comparable to Schindler’s List – art that may be hard to watch, but which is an essential look at man’s inhumanity to man. It is wrenching, but 12 Years a Slave earns its tears in a way few films ever do.” — Joe Neumaier, New York Daily News, http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/tv-movies/12-years-slave-movie-review-article-1.1488866

“This prickly renegade [director Steve McQueen] restores your faith in the harsh power of movies. You don’t just watch 12 Years a Slave. You bleed with it, share its immediacy and feel the wounds that may be beyond healing. […] Proving himself a world-class director, McQueen basically makes slaves of us all. It hurts to watch it. 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.” — Peter Travers, Rolling Stone, http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/reviews/12-years-a-slave-20131017

“A raw, horrifying and essential document.” — Richard Corliss, TIME Magazine, http://entertainment.time.com/2013/09/09/12-years-a-slave-and-mandela-two-tales-of-racism-survived

“Brutal yet elegant, 12 Years a Slave is a beautifully rendered punch to the gut about the most shameful chapter in American history. [… A] movie for the ages. Absolutely remarkable.” — Steve Davis, Austin Chronicle, http://www.austinchronicle.com/calendar/film/2013-11-01/12-years-a-slave

12 Years a Slave […] compels us to confront the toxins of racism that have been so prevalent in our psyches and in our history. McQueen and screenplay writer John Ridley refuse to let us off the hook in their probing portrait of slavery and its twisted prejudice and unrelenting cruelties. […] Will Americans allow this sobering movie to speak to their hearts and help us begin the inner work of accepting the national shadow of racism and slavery?” — Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality & Practice, http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/films/films.php?id=25564

British reviews:

“It’s a film made for a mass audience, but it doesn’t want them to feel comfortable for a second. What 12 Years a Slave is really interested in is creating an honest, believable experience: in culture and context, place and people, soil and skin. [… T]he cumulative emotional effect is devastating: the final scenes here are as angry, as memorable, as overwhelming as anything modern cinema has to offer. — Tom Huddleston, Time Out London, http://www.timeout.com/london/film/12-years-a-slave

“[… F]ilms that are actually about American slavery are vanishingly rare — films that unpick slavery’s all-debasing power-plays, enumerate its everyday horrors, show us the rhythms and rituals that have left it lingering in that nation’s muscle memory. McQueen’s picture […] does all of this, and could be the first of a new genre. […] 12 Years a Slave isn’t simply a masterpiece, it’s a milestone. This, at last, really is history written with lightning.” — Robbie Collin, The Telegraph, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/filmreviews/10293267/12-Years-A-Slave-review-This-at-last-really-is-history-written-with-lightning.html

“Steve McQueen’s latest film is a flat-out masterpiece, a magnificent, uncompromising and emotionally devastating slavery drama […] – unmissable.” — Matthew Turner, View London, http://www.viewlondon.co.uk/films/12-years-a-slave-film-review-55479.html

Reviews from India:

12 Years a Slave is the most devastating experience I’ve had in a movie theater in years. […] 12 Years a Slave is a difficult film but please don’t let that deter you. This is a great movie, which will enrich you. It deserves your time.” Anupama Chopra, The Front Row with Anupama Chopra, http://thefrontrow.starworld.in/review/anupama/12-years-a-slave/553

“It is one of the most haunting, daunting movies made. […]This is not a movie to be enjoyed but endured. But there lies its disturbing genius.” — Srijana Mitra Das, The Times of India, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/entertainment/english/movie-review/12-Years-a-Slave/movie-review/29666774.cms

12 Years A Slave is a devastating experience. I don’t think I was prepared to watch this film. I don’t know if anyone can ever be. But we must watch it as it is one of the most important films ever made. Important because it is based on an important chapter in history. Its importance in terms of cinema is elicited by the fact that this is the first film that depicts the reality of slavery. Moreover, this is a poetic and elegant piece of filmmaking. It’s not just a great film but great art. […] 12 Years a Slave is not just one of the best films of 2013 but one of the most important films ever made. This is not recommended viewing, but mandatory viewing.” — Nikhil Arora, Desimartini, http://www.desimartini.com/reviews/nikhil-arora-12-years-a-slave/rd24243md3083.htm

“Working from a no holds barred script by John Ridley, Director Steve McQueen with just his third film takes a leap so high as a filmmaker, that in doing so he creates an instant classic. […I]t is a film I would like to preserve and show to generations to come. It is a disturbing watch, extremely unsettling, and will make you squirm in your seat, but do experience it only in theatres.” — Rony D’costa, Desimartini, http://www.desimartini.com/reviews/rony-dcosta-12-years-a-slave/rd24297md3083.htm

“It is important for a society to reflect and learn from its past. It is brave for them to revisit something that was shameful and barbaric, yet do it without covering up the scars. 12 Years a Slave does just that – delve into the abominable past of America and unflinchingly depicting it in all its shame. This is a story that needed to be told, making for compelling cinema.” — Ameetbhuvan, Desimartini, http://www.desimartini.com/reviews/ameet-bhuvan-12-years-a-slave/rd24238md3083.htm

2 thoughts on “Looking back at Steve McQueen’s ‘12 Years a Slave’

  1. The slavery drama 12 Years a Slave won the Academy Award for best picture, making history as the first movie from a black director to win the film industry’s highest honour in 86 years of the Oscars.
    I am so tired to Hollywood trying to make me feel bad about slavery that happened over 150 years ago, but guess what I don’t as the great great great grandson of slave owners that was their decision. Hollywood is always trying to rewrite history, slavery right or wrong at that time was a way of life. Its over get over it Hollywood.

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