Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave.

12 Years a Slave is based on the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man living in upstate New York before the Civil War who was abducted and sold into slavery. This latest effort from director Steve McQueen is a towering achievement—one of the year’s bravest and most-uncompromising films.

Chiwetel Ejiofor is a lock for an Oscar nomination as Northup, who is forced to work on cotton plantations, one of them run by the despicable Edwin Epps, played by Michael Fassbender in a vicious and brilliant performance. McQueen shows slavery as the horror it was, and Ejiofor puts a character on the screen that you will never forget.

If you were one of the few people who saw 2011’s Pariah, you know that Adepero Oduye is a stellar actress, as she further proves here as Eliza, a woman sold into slavery and taken from her children. Relative newcomer Lupita Nyong’o is equally heartbreaking as Patsey, a victim of Epps’s sick abuse.

The movie is shocking, violent and unrelenting in its mission to show this country in its most shameful days. It’s about time somebody had the guts to make a movie like this.

12 Years a Slave is playing at the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; 760-770-1615); the Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 760-325-6565); and Cinémas Palme d’Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430).