Kurt Loder Reviews 12 Years a Slave and All Is Lost


12 Years a Slave
Photo by Jaap Buitendijk, courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures

12 Years a Slave is a sensational movie distinguished by its lack of sensationalism. The picture is based on an 1853 memoir by Solomon Northup, a free black man in the North who was shanghaied into slavery in the South and, unusually, lived to tell the tale. Northup's story is horrific, and it requires no manipulation to guide our emotional response. So English director Steve McQueen and American screenwriter John Ridley—both of whom, also unusually, are black—allow this chronicle of foul injustice to play out without feeling any need to hammer home its message with thunderous music cues (Hans Zimmer has rarely been so restrained as he is here) or overwrought editing. Loder also says Robert Redford gives a performance from which all vanity has been stripped away in All Is Lost.