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Telluride Review: Steve McQueen's '12 Years A Slave' Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender & More

by Chris Willman
August 31, 2013 10:55 AM
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Variety: "The first thing fans of McQueen’s 'Hunger' and 'Shame' will notice here is the degree to which the helmer’s austere formal technique has evolved — to the extent that one would almost swear he’d snuck off and made three or four films in the interim. Composition, sound design and story all cut together beautifully, and yet, there’s no question that '12 Years a Slave' remains an art film, especially as the provocative director forces audiences to confront concepts and scenes that could conceivably transform their worldview."

HitFix: " '12 Years' is a powerful drama driven by McQueen's bold direction and the finest performance of Chiwetel Ejiofor's career."

FirstShowing: "Phenomenal. A profound cinematic achievement on every level. Filmmaking at its finest. Chiwetel for Oscar. It's his."

Hollywood Elsewhere: "Sad & ghastly as the story is, '12 Years A Slave' is a humanist masterpiece & a slamdunk Best Picture contender right out of the gate."

Washington Post: "12 YEARS A SLAVE = Masterful rendering of intolerable cruelty. Standing O for McQ, Ejiofor, Pitt, Fass & stunning Lupita Nyong'o."

Awards Daily: "Another powerful collaboration for McQueen and Fassbender. They make magic together."

The Guardian: "12 YEARS A SLAVE (A-) is neo-brutalist, compassionate stunner, more Haneke than Hollywood, stand-outs from Fassbender, Ejiofor, and Nyong'o"

Indiewire: "More than a powerful elegy, '12 Years a Slave' is a mesmerizing triumph of art and polemics: McQueen turns a topic rendered distant by history into an experience that, short of living through the terrible era it depicts, makes you feel as if you've been there."

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  • Bill Edmunds | September 7, 2013 11:53 AMReply

    I'm worried about the review's claim that Pitt plays the only likable white person. Having read Northup's memoir, I can tell you he had a deep respect and even love for his first owner, a man named William Ford (in the film played by Benedict Cumberbatch). Northup even said he would have willingly stayed with Ford his entire life if he could have had his family with him. Northup was keenly aware that Ford had grown up in a society that accepted people of african descent as being 'made' for slavery, and did not blame Ford for this sentiment, although he did ponder many times how Ford could be such a kind and generous man who did not see the hypocrisy of owning other human beings. Sounds like the film might not portray this character accurately. Then again, Fassbender's character appears to be an amalgam of two different characters, so I guess changes are inevitable.

  • JOSH SUTTON | September 7, 2013 4:07 PM

    Cummberbatch's character is benevolent and civilized but in no ways likeable (perhaps sympathetic to an extent?) At the end of the day, though he show's Solomon favour, he is still a slave owner who lives in constant denial of that fact that Northup is obviously educated and wrongfully enslaved. He turns a blind eye to this fact to suit his likings and loses any likability as a result.

  • Higher Value | September 5, 2013 9:47 AMReply

    I wish Hollywood was more careful and accountable about making these "Hyper Exaggerated -Sensitive Racial Movies". When they, (Producers/Actors) go back to the hills with their rich white friends, the regular white people go back to normal life, where there happens to be a lot super charged hyper racists black youth ready to bash "Massa's" head in.

  • Bill Edmunds | September 7, 2013 12:07 PM

    In what way should they be more careful and accountable? They're adapting a true story. I certainly don't want to see a sanitized version of this incredible memoir.

  • james palmer | September 1, 2013 2:03 PMReply

    i didn't care to much for fruit vale station,but loved the butler.

  • Alan b | September 1, 2013 2:03 AMReply

    Haaaaa brrrere derrrrr

  • Alan B | August 31, 2013 10:32 PMReply

    Another phenomenal review: "All the white characters are depicted as villains, which is bad, except the one character who isn't, and he's incongruous." Fascinating insight.

  • Alan B | September 4, 2013 4:51 AM

    Yeah, good one. You really nailed it, Alex.

  • Alex | September 3, 2013 1:14 PM

    And yet you are here reading every single day, commenting every single day multiple times.

  • Alan B | September 1, 2013 4:59 AM

    You can't ruin what's already broken. With the exception of a couple of writers, the staff has ALWAYS been smug, witless and completely lacking in integrity or intellect. I have lost count of the amount of times a writer or commentator has impersonated me because of their anger or their own weak inability to engage in a debate, so please don't blame me for the intellectual failings of others. On another site, Toro even told me to "get raped", so please let's have everyone take responsibility for their own actions, shall we, instead of blaming someone for other people's clear emotional problems.

  • Rachel | August 31, 2013 11:36 PM

    You're such a fucking shithead, you know that? You're one of the many that ruin what could be a good comments section. But then again, I've heard you've done this on many other movie blogs too so it must just be your winning personality.

  • Based on a true account | August 31, 2013 2:10 PMReply

    Why doesn't this review acknowledge that the movie is based on the true life autobiographical book of free man kidnapped and sold into slavery Solomon Northup? The white people you see depicted were real people not fictional characters, so complaining about their cruelty as some sort of disservice to audiences or to white people is bizarre. Also, I don't see you mention William Ford (played here by Benedict Cumberbatch) and his wife. They are white people in Northup's slave experience who maintain good conditions for their slaves and honestly want to be good people and benevolent slave owners. They are part of an unjust system and a bigoted culture, but within that context they are nice people. Northup appreciated Ford and his wife very much and praised them highly, unsurprising since his other owners were so awful and abusive.

  • Ray | September 15, 2013 9:54 PM

    I don't care what race you are, Chris. I don't care. If you OWN someone, you're not a good person. When you buy someone, you are not a good person. When you buy them and make them work for you for NOTHING. I don't care how nice you are. You are scum. And an alleged 'black man' telling me the opposite means less than nothing to me. It doesn't change my mind. And I'm a black woman.

  • Chris | September 4, 2013 5:32 AM

    Umm, a slave owner can be a "good person", as evident by their treatment of their slaves. In a society where the ownership of other peoples is the norm, you must then judge the people of the society by that norm.

    And this is coming from a black man, so please, no one try to play the "race" card.

  • Ray | September 2, 2013 2:21 AM

    "Also, I don't see you mention William Ford (played here by Benedict Cumberbatch) and his wife. They are white people in Northup's slave experience who maintain good conditions for their slaves and honestly want to be good people and benevolent slave owners. They are part of an unjust system and a bigoted culture, but within that context they are nice people. "

    What? They are good people? THEY OWNED OTHER PEOPLE! Good people don't own other people. Do you understand that? Good people don't buy human beings and make them work for them for FREE for the rest of their lives. I don't care how "good" the conditions were that they "maintained" for them. They OWNED them. What the hell are you talking about? Don't ever refer to a SLAVE OWNER as a "good person". They were a slave owner, which, by definition, makes them NOT A GOOD PERSON. Honestly, I can't with you Cumberbatch fans.

  • Donella | September 1, 2013 6:02 PM

    I also found the complaints about John Ridley's dialogue bizarre. Does the article's author understand that 12 Years a Slave is an adapted screenplay of a narrative written in 1853 (which probably explains the similarity in language usage to Lincoln.

  • Nikki | August 31, 2013 2:28 PM

    Agreed 100%! Did you want them to write the script NOT based on the book?

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