12 Years a Slave: McQueen's brutal epic wows film critics
British director Steve McQueen's third feature leaves Toronto critics and public in awe
BRITISH film director Steve McQueen has received rave reviews at the Toronto film festival for his historical epic 12 Years A Slave, despite unprecedented scenes of violence. It has also won the festival's People's Choice award.
Set in north America before the civil war, the film tells the story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man who's abducted and sold into slavery.
Critics have found it alarmingly brutal compared to McQueen's more arty titles Hunger and Shame. Entertainment Weekly calls it "a landmark in cruelty and transcendence". Tim Robey in the Daily Telegraph asks: "Slavery often gets debated by wig-wearing white folk in the movies – as if there's any debate to be had – but when has it ever been truly *shown*?"
Brutality aside, Robey believes "it's the nobility of this remarkable film that pierces the soul". He also likes the "chilling" performance of Michael Fassbender as a tyrannical landowner, while McQueen's direction is "compellingly humble but also majestic".
The film opens in the States on 18 October and in the UK next January and is already being talked up as an Oscar and Bafta contender.
David Cox on The Guardian film blog compares the feature to past Oscar winners: "The film is no mere romp like Argo or The Artist, crowd-pleaser like The King's Speech, or thrill ride like The Hurt Locker. According to McQueen, 12 Years is necessary."
Tim Grierson at Screen Daily calls it "an engrossing, unsentimental odyssey that finds Steve McQueen moving away from the intimate approach of his first two films for a broader canvas and a more sweeping narrative."
Of course, there's always one dissenter. Ed Gonzalez of Slant magazine gives 12 Years a mere two stars and calls the film a "compromised vision". McQueen, he says, "lacks the passion... to truly connect his affectations to the spirit of human struggle". ·