12 Years a Slave has been hailed by movie critics as a masterpiece that’s value in the annals of filmic history cannot be underestimated. Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor as freed black Solomon Northop, the movie follows the true story of Northrop, who was tricked into making himself easy prey for slave traders. Thrown into slavery in pre-Civil War Louisianna the educated Northrop stuggles to survive the brutality and soul crushing treatment of a man seen as nothing more than property.

Rounding out the all-star cast is Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sarah Paulson, Alfre Woodard, Paul Dano, Adepero Oduye, Paul Giamatti, Brad Pitt and 2013 Oscar nominee Quvenzhane Wallis. Directed by Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave offers a harrowing account of slavery, the depravity that endorsed and enforced it and the resilence of those who weathered it with the determination to live. Critics agree, it’s a film not to be missed:

“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. But it’s also a crowning achievement of a filmmaker whose command of the medium extends beyond mere narrative and its reductive, sentimental snares to encompass the full depth and breadth of its most expressive and transforming properties. “12 Years a Slave” isn’t just a cathartic experience that happens to be an astonishing formal achievement: It works its emotional power precisely because it’s so elegantly constructed, from the inside out.” – Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post

“Movie audiences have never been presented with anything quite like the intertwined beauty and savagery of "12 Years a Slave," so it's anyone's guess whether they'll extend the embrace that Steve McQueen's film deserves. Such is the power of this landmark event, though, that 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.” – Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal

“When a director who never ever blinks takes on a horrific subject, a nightmare in broad daylight is the inevitable result.… Based on an 1853 memoir detailing the appalling experiences of Solomon Northup, a free man of color who was brazenly abducted and sold into slavery, this film intends to do more than tell us a story. It wants to immerse us in an experience, and it does. 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, but it is not easy to take in.” – Kenneth Turn, Los Angeles Times

“There are many striking moments and outstanding performances in this movie. Among the latter are Sarah Paulson as Epps’ vengefully jealous wife; Adepero Oduye as a slave who howls with grief after being torn from her children; Paul Dano as an especially cruel overseer; and Alfre Woodard as a former slave married to a plantation owner who briefly rents Northup. […] Unavoidably melodramatic and extremely violent at times because of its fidelity to Northup’s life, this film can certainly be difficult to watch. But I’d argue it’s absolutely essential viewing to understand the roots of the tortured history of race relations in this country.” – Lou Lumenick, New York Post

12 Years a Slave, rated R, is currently in limited release. It is slated for wide release Oct. 28.

– Chelsea Regan

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