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The harrowing 12 Years a Slave has all the makings of a mesmerizing period drama for the ages. The only question is whether the execution meets the potential.

The movie stars Chiwetel Ejiofor in the true story of Solomon Northup, a free man in 1800s N.Y. State, who was kidnapped and forced into slavery.

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Toiling away on a plantation near New Orleans, he subsequently fought for his freedom with the help of a Canadian abolitionist, played by Brad Pitt.

Also starring Michael Fassbender, the film is drawing major Oscar buzz as it opens this weekend. Does it live up to the high expectations it sets?

Let’s see what critics’ 12 Years a Slave reviews are saying …

"Sometimes you have to prepare yourself for the journey a film takes you on. So it is with 12 Years a Slave, a harrowing, unforgettable drama that doesn’t look away from the reality of slavery and, in so doing, helps us all fully, truly confront it." – The New York Daily News


"Perhaps the nature of the story is such that the film can’t help but be obvious and quite melodramatic at times, but it gets better as it goes along and builds to a moving finish." – The Hollywood Reporter

"The film has probably the finest cast of any film this year, and offers contemporary audiences a meticulous and haunting look at this terrible chapter in American history." – USA Today

"In large part, “12 Years a Slave” is an argument about American slavery that, in image after image, both reveals it as a system (signified in one scene by the sights and ominous, mechanical sounds of a boat water wheel) and demolishes its canards, myths and cherished symbols. There are no lovable masters here or cheerful slaves. There are also no messages, wagging fingers or final-act summations or sermons. [Director Steve] McQueen’s method is more effective and subversive because of its primarily old-fashioned, Hollywood-style engagement." – The New York Times

"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." – Rolling Stone

"At it most profound, though, 12 Years a Slave is a captivating study in humanity at its most troubled and implacable, as Ejiofor masterfully portrays Northup’s fight to retain his dignity and identity within an ever-widening nightmare. As such, McQueen’s film deserves pride of place alongside Gravity, Captain Phillips and the upcoming All Is Lost as a breathtaking, ambitious essay on physical and existential isolation." – The Washington Post