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4.3 out of 5 stars1,337
4.3 out of 5 stars
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106 of 114 people found the following review helpful
on 25 May 2014
What surprised me most about this film is that it is almost a quiet story; nearly intimate.
When Solomon sees his wife after 12 years, he doesn't spout hatred at his misfortune, he apologizes. The film doesn't shout protestations or insults at white en-slavers, it is an endearing and harrowing tale of a dignified man.
This doesn't mean there aren't moments that make one flinch and feel the immense emotion for millions of people who were victims of a vile and horrific business, but it is whispered through the glimpses of the sun-drenched porches- it is sung with the voices of the surrendered and the strings of Solomons' violin.

The film is mostly told from Solomon Northups' perspective, though Steve McQueen often uses his camera eye as omniscient narrator as well.
The cinematography is poetic, sublime and at times magnificently beautiful, even through the terror. There is a scene when our protagonist is nearly hung by neighboring slavers, in a few takes which seemed like an eternity; we marvel and are disgusted by its base, lack of humanity, all the while fellow slaves go about their daily lives in a beautiful summer setting in the Deep South,the crickets humming to the heat,ignoring the injured- nearly hung body of Solomon. This scene struck a raw chord, as it truly encapsulated a perfect depiction of what slavery was; the life of a slave was worthless to most.

McQueen used music motifs effectively, employing sour tones during its darkest moments, which added to the well-crafted artistry of this film.
The characterizations of all the players were superb; Ejiofor, believable and heartfelt in every scene.
My only complaint would be the passing of 12 years.The audience couldn't grasp the passing of all that time; to me,it is vitally important to make the toll and weight of all those years as part of the narrative, as it shaped Solomons' experience.
However this is an historical tale,wonderfully told and not to be missed.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 31 August 2015
This movie was awful. It was awful to watch. It was awful to think about. It was awful all over. And you have to see it too.
It left me terrified, in pain, with so much grief. Because not only is this a mere glimpse of the horror so many millions endured, but it conveys an awful truth: human beings have been awful to each other in the past, and they often still are today. Whether you are white, or black, or male, or female, or straight, or bisexual, or Jewish, or Christian, or whatever you may be... In the end you are a human being. Therefore you deserve to be treated with respect, with freedom of choice, with dignity. And yet in the past this has often been overlooked. In the present you only need to watch the news to realise it still is. And that's awful. And terrifying. And painful. And will leave you with so much grief.
I recommend this movie to anyone needing a reminder to wake up tomorrow, and try to be a better person than the day before.
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96 of 110 people found the following review helpful
on 14 January 2014
I want to put into words how this film affected me, but, appropriately enough, there aren't the words there. Steve McQueen's adaptation of Solomon Northup's memoir is a film in which words are precious and very carefully chosen - whether shouted or sung or uttered in whispers out of earshot of the savage ruling class.

Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free man tricked into slavery. The story charts his ordeal - and those of countless others - under the tortuous watchfulness of a series of plantation owners, cruellest of whom is Edwin Epps (McQueen regular Michael Fassbender). It is a film whose relentless scenes of abuse are punctuated by levity of only the most desperate and solemn kind, and which is determinedly unbothered by the comforts of sentimentality.

Ejiofor captures the agony at the heart of Northup, from the initial indignity of his situation, through physical torture endured, observed and committed, to the brutal annihilation of his character through supremacist re-education. In place of the stock conclusions drawn by Hollywood, John Ridley's script has other ideas: rather than rousing speeches there are bursts of quickly-suppressed anger; instead of soaring emotion, upon release Northup remains bound in the shackles of guilt left upon him by the guilty.

As with his previous films (Hunger and Shame), McQueen embeds meaning in the frame. These aren't pretty images for the sake of it. The burning of a letter represents the dwindling of hope - and yet how long it seems to take to dwindle, and we linger until every sliver of fire is spent, staring ever harder for the remaining light in the darkness. Northup is staring also, unblinking, into the abyss of humanity around him, holding out for some such glimmer.

In terms of characterisation (do we call them characters if these monsters truly existed?), Ridley and McQueen's greatest decision is to give as much depth to the masters as their slaves. Epps is a vile creature, but we are dared to empathise with him as he impotently hands the whip to Northup, under the emasculating gaze of his jealous wife (Sarah Paulson). The object of Epps' violently ambivalent affections is Patsey (Lupita Nyong'o) an angel in a world where the beautiful and the talented are particularly prized for self-sanctified hatred.

So it seems I have found the words to describe a little of my experience of watching this remarkable film. It's a reminder that cinema is not solely a reserve of entertainment, and that the atrocities of humankind sometimes need to be shown to us - nakedly, harrowingly, unforgettably.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 12 April 2015
Easy to see why this film won best picture. Both compelling and brutal to watch. Don't expect fast action, loud incidental music (thank goodness) and heroics in this one, but do expect first class acting, harrowing truths, atmosphere and lots of emotion, and have a box of tissues handy. I find it sad that some have given a poor review because they cannot face up to the shameful historic facts that slave owners could ever have stooped to such depravity and violence directed against another human being. Highly recommend this film.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 29 May 2015
If you watch this film and feel nothing what so ever then you must have the emotional range of a pebble.

134 minutes of horrific, despicable and shameful events filmed beautifully by Steve McQueen and the acting by all was truly fantastic throughout.

The story, without divulging any spoilers, is about a free black man from New York who is conned, drugged and sold into 12 years of slavery.

I recently read some background information on the actors experience during filming and many of them were deeply affected. I won't say what or why exactly as it would spoil the film. After watching it, it lead me to purchase the book about Solomon Northup.

I love a film that makes me feel and think about it long after viewing it and once 12 years a slave had finished it left me feeling angry at the injustice and cruelty but also admiration of people's inner strength. I have an icy, onyx cricket ball for a heart but the scene at the end choked me up.

Amazing film and one that I highly recommend you watch.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 6 June 2015
It was with great trepidation that i watched this film the other evening due to the fact that i am a an avid reader of the 'American Civil War' and have always been a Southern sympathizer, while fully understanding the impact of the abhorrent system of slavery.

Well, this film by Steve McQueen is quite outstanding and at last Hollywood have chosen a film that is worthy of being the winner of the Oscar together with the other Oscars it won. The film based on a true story has been well documented by other Amazon reviewers so will not elaborate but concentrate on the other aspects of this superb piece of film making.

Firstly, the cinematography was superb and the the music by Hans Zimmer was completely appropriate for the story and for once there were scenes in the film where there was no music at all, which added to the telling of this horrific story. Secondly the acting was of the highest caliber
hence the Oscar for Ejiofor, while the directing and production was flawless. I will agree with one reviewer who stated that one does not get the feeling of 12 years in the film, but this is a minor quibble. Thirdly, this tragic story could have been portrayed in an undignified manner and harped on about the depredations of some of the Southern whites. However, it avoids this trap which only serves to to make one feel more revulsion at the slave owners, slavery itself and bring more poignancy to what is a harrowing story. It is quite brilliantly executed and i am so glad that i watched it as it is a film not to be missed.

Has the film altered my feelings regarding the South in the American Civil War. I must be honest and say it has not. Yes, slavery was an abomination but having said this, it would have crumbled without a civil war due to sheer economics and pressure from a more humane world and scientific invention. The civil war's outcome was to perpetuate white domination when there were many enlightened slave owners, who were stating to grant freedom and making sure educating them was a priority for them. It is only recently that there is a more harmonious society in the South and this in many ways has been created by the Southerners themselves. Many people who fought for the South did not own slaves and were anti slavery but still fought for the cause due to perceived Northern aggression, rightly or wrongly.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 29 June 2014
Normally I don't write reviews, but felt compelled to on this occasion having read some of the poor reviews some have given this film. How anyone can rate this with 1 or 2 stars is beyond my comprehension. Yes at times this film is hard to watch and is very upsetting as it deals with some hard to stomach issues, but sadly they are a part of our history and I feel it's important to keep them as a reminder to learn from the mistakes of the past. It is a very emotional, touching, moving film which I hold up there with the likes of The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile (two of my favourites), maybe not quite on par, but not far off. If you are wondering whether or not to watch this I would implore you to try it, I don't think you'll be disappointed, just have a box of tissues standing by.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
I'm old enough to remember the fuss over Roots when it was first broadcast. I sense this film was a similarly important experience for a later generation of Americans. Perhaps slightly ill-advisedly, we chose this for a Saturday evening's relaxed entertainment. It's very powerful stuff, and pretty unrelenting. The acting and filmmaking is exceptional and the brutality and lack of humanity is compellingly portrayed. As a film it's pretty much faultless, and necessary viewing, but don't expect an easy time.
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68 of 81 people found the following review helpful
on 12 January 2014
No movie that I have ever watched has depicted slavery so unflinchingly and earnestly. The fact that this film was based on a true story also adds something to its gravitas. I felt exhausted by the end of my viewing and there has been talk of people walking out of cinemas due to the raw intensity and the unflinching way in which the subject matter is tackled. But I say endure and you will be rewarded with the extraordinary true story of an American hero and a story that is long overdue in American cinema. There was debate about whether or not this was an important movie in the that country's cinema canon but for my money, considering that there seems to have been something preventing Hollywood and equally the country it belongs to addressing honestly the darkest chapter of their history, make no mistake, this is as important as movies get.

Brave, bold, committed filmmaking of the highest order.

Steve McQueen...I salute you.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 20 May 2014
A fine film - its plaudits were fairly predictable especially on the basis of the subject matter but - fair enough - it's well done. Blends well the themes of brutality, hope / hopelessness, humanity and a legalistic version of religion. The viewer sees that events are occurring in a land - in a mentality - where there is an inherent blindness to the hideousness of slavery.

So why not 5 stars? No spoilers here, suffice to say that I found the ending a little truncated as was the lead in to that ending.

The certificate of 15 I would also say is good in that it will include more viewers but - beware - it isn't for the faint hearted.
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