In 1841, violinist Solomon Northup, a black man born free in New York, was lured from his home and family in Saratoga Springs to Washington, D.C., where he was drugged and sold into slavery. He eventually escaped from the Louisiana plantation where he was tortured and imprisoned and wrote a memoir about his experiences. The book is the basis of British director Steve McQueen's newest stunner of a movie, "12 Years a Slave." Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Northup. Other members of the cast include Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong'o, Paul Giamatti, Brad Pitt, Paul Dano, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sarah Paulson and Alfre Woodard.
Here's what the critics are saying:
Based on a true story, this commanding drama by Steve McQueen (Hunger) is the most uncompromising movie about American slavery I've ever seen, which might have something to do with the fact that McQueen is black and almost every other filmmaker to tackle the subject has been white. J.R. Jones, Chicago Reader
Watching "12 Years a Slave," it's impossible not to think of Nazi Germany, the Republic of Rwanda and other distant places where human beings somehow descended into madness. What "12 Years a Slave" makes mercilessly clear is that we were those people, too. Rafer Guzman, Newsday
When Platt finally meets Samuel Bass (Brad Pitt), a Canadian carpenter who helps engineer his escape, there is little relief. Tranquilizing nostalgia is not for McQueen, who sees racism still festering in so-called polite society. Proving himself a world-class director, McQueen basically makes slaves of us all. It hurts to watch it. You won't be able to tuck this powder keg in the corner of your mind and forget it. What we have here is a blistering, brilliant, straight-up classic. Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
There is much to admire about “12 Years a Slave,” including the cleareyed, unsentimental quality of its images — this is a place where trees hang with beautiful moss and black bodies — and how Mr. Ejiofor’s restrained, open, translucent performance works as a ballast, something to cling onto, especially during the frenzies of violence. These are rightly hard to watch and bring to mind the startling moment in “Maus,” Art Spiegelman’s cartoon opus about the Holocaust, in which he asks his “shrink” to explain what it felt like to be in Auschwitz. “Boo! It felt like that. But ALWAYS!” The genius of “12 Years a Slave” is its insistence on banal evil, and on terror, that seeped into souls, bound bodies and reaped an enduring, terrible price. Manohla Dargis, New York Times
12 Years a Slave is a pristine, aesthetically tasteful movie about the horrors of slavery. Aside from a characteristically nuanced lead performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor—plus an oak-tree-tall supporting one by Benedict Cumberbatch, as well as a breath of movie-star vitality from Brad Pitt in a very small role—it's a picture that stays more than a few safe steps away from anything so dangerous as raw feeling. Even when it depicts inhuman cruelty, as it often does, it never compromises its aesthetic purity. Stephanie Zacharek, Village Voice
"12 Years a Slave" is rated R for violence. It runs 134 minutes. In Athens, it's playing at both Beechwood Stadium 11 and Carmike Cinemas 12.