Steve McQueen’s upcoming period drama Twelve Years a Slave was unveiled for the first time last night at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado and early reviews/reactions have been overwhelmingly positive so far. The story centers on Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofo), a free man tricked, captured and sold into slavery in the deep south. The film is based on Northup’s own autobiography and chronicles his years in slavery under the watch of cruel planter Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti, Quvenzhane Wallis, Paul Dano, Scoot McNairy, Garrett Dillahunt, Alfre Woodard, Dwight Henry, and Michael K. Williams also star. Twelve Years a Slave opens on December 27th.
12 YEARS A SLAVE is based on an incredible true story of one man’s fight for survival and freedom. In the pre-Civil War United States, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. Facing cruelty (personified by a malevolent slave owner, portrayed by Michael Fassbender) as well as unexpected kindnesses, Solomon struggles not only to stay alive, but to retain his dignity. In the twelfth year of his unforgettable odyssey, Solomon’s chance meeting with a Canadian abolitionist (Brad Pitt) forever alters his life.
The Playlist: There are echoes of the paranoid urgency and claustrophobic McQueen memorably built around a single setting in “Hunger,” but “Slave” carries them to a grander emotional scale. As Northup is thrust on to a boat with other frantic new captures, Hans Zimmer’s pulsating score compliments an intense montage of whispered exchanges between Northup and the other prisoners. The strength of the images shot by cinematographer Sean Bobbitt (“The Place Beyond the Pines”), first glimpsed in the prologue, provide an intricate clash of colors — from the sharp blues of the surrounding ocean to the murky shadows of the ship’s belly.
Hit Fix: It goes without saying that no narrative film or TV program has ever depicted the sheer brutality and horror that was American slavery as Steve McQueen’s “12 Years A Slave” does. Based on the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841, “12 Years” is a powerful drama driven by McQueen’s bold direction and the finest performance of Chiwetel Ejiofor’s career.
The Hollywood Reporter: Twelve Years is an extremely dark and disturbing work that will almost certainly resonate more with critics than the general public. But unlike those earlier two films (Hunger & Shame), which received a grand total of zero Oscar nominations, this one, because of its larger historical canvas and the magnificent performances from its giant ensemble cast, will almost certainly resonate more with the Academy.
Variety: Based on the true story of free black American Solomon Northrup’s kidnapping and imposed bondage from 1841 to 1853, this epic account of an unbreakable soul makes even Scarlett O’Hara’s struggles seem petty by comparison. But will audiences have the stomach for a film that rubs their faces in injustice? As performed by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Northrup’s astounding story is too compelling not to connect with American audiences, and important enough to do decent business abroad as well.
First Showing: It is a profound cinematic achievement on every level. A phenomenal work that, while incredibly heavy to watch and brutally honest in its depiction of slavery, is filmmaking at its finest. More than anything, this film is one of the finest accomplishments for actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, who (I must say) deserves to finally take home the Oscar for this after so many years of fine performances. What a film.