Feature

12 Years a Slave

A free man is sold into servitude.

Directed by Steve McQueen
(R)

****

Director Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave easily ranks as “the greatest feature film ever made about American slavery,” said David Denby in The New Yorker. Based on the memoir of Solomon Northup, a free man from upstate New York who in 1841 was kidnapped and sold into bondage, it gives us a vantage point that puts the nation’s most appalling moral failure “in the harshest possible light.” The film’s star, Chiwetel Ejiofor, “may have the most eloquent eyes of any actor working,” said Owen Gleiberman in Entertainment Weekly. As Northup becomes the property first of a decent man, then of a monster (Michael Fassbender), Ejiofor needs those eyes because he must hold his tongue to survive. Lupita Nyong’o proves “brilliant beyond words” as a teenage slave who’s repeatedly raped by her master, but it’s Ejiofor’s performance that allows us to watch such horrors without turning away. In the end, this unflinching drama forces us to confront “the terrifying ordinariness” of 19th-century slavery, said Richard Lawson in TheAtlantic.com. It’ll leave most viewers “shell-shocked and heartsick.”

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