It’s officially Oscar season, and Peter Travers may have found his Best Picture candidate in 12 Years a Slave. “Academy Award nominations up and down the line for everything in this movie,” he says. “It will knock you out.” The Steve McQueen-directed drama is based on the memoirs of Solomon Northup, a black violinist (portrayed here by Chiwetel Ejiofor) from New York who is kidnapped and sold into slavery on a Southern plantation owned by the wicked Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). Northup fakes illiteracy as he and fellow slave Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) are whipped and tortured at the hands of Epps and his wife, Mary (Sarah Paulson).
12 Years explores a horrifying chapter of American slavery, and its brutal violence makes for a difficult viewing experience. “It will leave you saying, ‘I have never looked at American history in the same way before, and I don’t want to see it again,” Travers says. But our film critics adds that the struggle is worth it, calling the picture a “straight-up classic.” Travers also praises McQueen – who previously helmed the sex addiction drama Shame – for his strong direction, saying 12 Years is “certainly the best thing he’s done.” But he saves his strongest compliments for the cast, particularly Ejiofor: “We see everything in his eyes,” Travers raves.