Firstly before saying anything at all about the film, let me make it clear that slavery was then and is now an abomination. It matters not whether extreme cruelty is involved or not; depriving an individual of liberty, freedom of choice and of dignity is unacceptable.
Now to the film. The acting is peerless, all parts without exception are played with conviction, passion and integrity. The locations, the photography, pretty much everything was nearly flawless, and that includes the depiction of exceeding violence, which was both utterly horrible but also filmed in such a way as to render the horror completely faithfully without actually showing it. So you see and feel the beating of Patsy, without actually being shown her back being torn to shreds, until afterwards, in near darkness.
But although this film is winning plaudits even as I write, I have to say that for me anyway, there were longeurs, and at the end although I understand what Steve McQueen was getting at, I think there would have been even more impact if he had cut some of the slower moments, for by dint of the title alone, the viewer knows what the outcome is; and had gone into the more interesting fact that even once freed, as a black man, though free, Solomon Northrup was not able to pursue any of his perpetrators through the courts because they were white.
This was made clear, though only in writing as an addendum to the end of the film. But surely, Solomon himself must have felt this to be an equal injustice, even if not so physically damaging.
Had even a small amount of time been spent showing him trying and failing to get the justice he undoubtedly deserved, it would have made this a stronger film. Without it, there is really no necessary tension: he was a slave for twelve years, met with a few weak but good men, many weak, but vile men and some equally vile women and finally managed, through the actions of one thoroughly good man, to regain his status as a free man – but not an equal one. That struggle is on-going.