THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER
7:04 PM PDT 8/31/2013 by Todd McCarthy
The Bottom Line
A strong, involving, at times overstated telling of an extraordinary life story.
Telluride Film Festival
October 18 (Fox Searchlight)
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Garrett Dillahunt, Paul Giamatti
The recent popular revenge fantasy Django Unchained notwithstanding, there have been so few good and strong films about slavery in America that, for this reason alone, 12 Years A Slave stands quite tall. With director Steve McQueen dedicating himself to detailing the “peculiar institution” with as many dreadful particulars as he can, Chiwetel Ejiofor leads a fine cast with a superior performance as the real-life Solomon Northup, a free black man from New York who was kidnapped in 1841 and sold into Southern slavery until being miraculously rescued. Perhaps the nature of the story is such that the film can’t help but be obvious and quite melodramatic at times, but it gets better as it goes along and builds to a moving finish. Despite the upsetting and vivid brutality, Fox Searchlight has a winner here that will generate copious media coverage, rivet the attention of the black public, stir much talk in political and educational circles and appeal to film audiences who crave something serious and different.
Northup published a memoir of his 12-year nightmare in 1853, the year after Uncle Tom’s Cabin came out, and it was so successful that he went on to participate in two stage adaptations. The book dropped from sight in the 20th century, but the movie tie-in will certainly reestablish its virtually unique status as a work by an educated free man who managed to return from slavery. British director McQueen, whose striking first two features, Hunger and Shame, remained restricted to the art film world, paints on a much bigger canvas and with a much broader brush here, befitting a subject that defined the structure of American society before the Civil War. The nature of the outrage, villainy and human suffering on display is entirely genuine if also familiar, but it is never far removed from the direct experiences of Northup, who, near the beginning of his ordeal, decides, “I don’t want to survive, I want to live.”
READ MORE HERE:http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/movie/twelve-years-a-slave/review/618848