Emancipation Review: Will Smith’s Slave Epic Is a B Movie at Heart

“The Slap” forced Antoine Fuqua’s film into the Oscar spotlight, but this violent drama about slavery was not built to bear such expectations.

A B-movie full of golden illusions of greatness, Antoine Fuqua’s Oscar-pilled “Emancipation” is the kind of wildfire that can only happen because Hollywood is spinning off its axis. Because the American film industry has sacrificed mid-budget programmers on the altar of monolithic franchise blockbusters, original stories can only hope to be told if they feed into the prize machine and/or create a sense of cultural value. That’s how you and the director of “Olympus Yawa” create an epic about slavery that really needs to be something small – and not very important.

It wasn’t an option. Because of its release date, story, and star power alone, “Emancipation” was made to be seen through the narrow lens of the system that produced it, and “The Slap” – an existential threat to anything related to it. the Oscars for market demand – it’s more than enough to put a movie in Hollywood’s annual horse race for its money.

“Deliverance” is based on the true story of Gordon (here named Peter), a man whose photo with eloid scars was taken on the line of carte de visite photos taken at the Union camp in Baton Rouge after he escaped from a field 40 miles away and survived a ten-day trek across dangerous swamps; seeing his injured back was then used to help the anti-violence movement bring the brutality of slavery to an unbelieving world.

Fuqua’s relentlessly brutal film about him aspires to have the same effect on modern audiences, whose imaginations may struggle to understand the apparent sins of the 19th century, and/or recognize the real dangers that America’s unaddressed racism continues to bring. as we move into the 21st. It’s a nice wish for a movie to have, but it’s not a wish this the film is set for success.


Here is a picture of the fame of 130 million that shows better the result of “The Revenant” than it does that of Reconstruction (Fuqua’s epic feels both stupid and sad like Alejandro González Iñárritu’s very similar Best Picture nominee, if mercifully he never pretended). “Liberty” does a job of showing the true horror of human imprisonment while at the same time getting into some fast-paced scenes, letting Ben Foster off the hook as Amon Göth of the fried Southerner who is struggling to bring the story’s hero to heel, and – most of all – forcing Will Smith into a knife fight with an alligator. in a place that feels very funny because it is presented in one of the most beautiful monochrome underwater cinematography since “Night of the Hunter.”

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(At one point in this so-called serious movie about serious academics, that is same alligator he jumps out of nowhere and crashes into a runaway slave, delivering the kind of popcorn-throwing jolt that would feel more at home in a summer blockbuster than it does here.)

American moviegoers are accustomed to ending their history studies with a list of artificial butter on top, but William N. Collage’s text filters Gordon’s saga through so many Hollywood horror songs that the genre’s extremes begin to feel honest by comparison. . At least the opening scene where Peter rips the door frame out of the plantation slave quarters while being dragged from his family’s registers by mental certainty.




If the same could be said for this character who does not change the Christian faith, which continues before seeing his fellow fugitives killed, and above all he kills the servant holding the iron cross that he finds on the body of a dead child. Or the fourth episode suddenly veers into “Glory” territory, which begins with deus ex Mustafa Shakir ending Foster’s plot in the least satisfying way imaginable, then reinstating Peter as the world’s greatest warrior a few minutes later. Being reminded that “Cowboy Bebop” survives Shakir has a wonderful screenplay that goes a long way. Learning that Gordon really he did go from human “contraband” to Union Army hero in a matter of weeks with impact, as “Emancipation” represents a dramatic change with a punch that makes the dramatic truth of the story seem like a lie.

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And pour Charmaine Bingwa, as the wonder of “The Good Fight” is given worse than doing the same role as Penelope as Peter’s wife. It would be one thing if he just served as the north star that is motivating him to return to his family, but “Emancipation” also forces the actor to break his nose in a cold sweat before using his character to begin. that’s bad cheap to guess an hour later.

For his part, Smith gives a gentle but devoted turn as a man who will stop at anything to return home, full of grief as that voice should be for every enslaved person (Peter is taken to work on the Confederate railroad). In comparison to “The Revenant” of all, the critic might think of Smith’s work here as the kind of independent performance offered by a movie star before they win an Oscar (at various points in the story Peter covers himself in mud, shit, and onions), and it’s true that “Emancipation” was in the works long before Smith emerged as the Best Actor “King Richard.” A generous take might conclude that Smith’s uncomplicated stoicism helps Peter lead us into hell without distracting us from it, a quality that serves as a Virgilian tour guide through Fuqua’s increasingly phantasmagoric inferno of dismembered bodies, severed heads, and dismembered soldiers.




If “Freedom” is full of images of black people suffering, perhaps viewers can find solace in the fact that these images rarely look more arresting than they do through the lens of Robert Richardson’s camera. The “Django Unchained” and “Bringing Out the Dead” cinematographer takes the film decorated New Orleans set in a highly-desaturated grayscale that makes it difficult to tell if the film was shot in color and dropped within an inch of its life, or shot. in black-and-white and melted with an explosion of colors – red fire, green leaves – in the background. Smoke is not known as air.

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The daytime scenes slide dangerously close to Zack Snyder territory, while the night scenes are kissed by the sound of luminescence that suggests a bad fever dream. This is a bold approach to cinema that takes place in the turbulent time that separated the publication of the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863 from the nation’s acceptance of its constitution in June 1865; each step of Peter’s journey from Ben Foster’s railroad to Baton Rouge and beyond falls on an uncertain point between suffering and salvation.

The emphasis on suspense and aesthetics combine to make “Deliverance” easier to sit through than you might imagine, given its brutal and brutal atmosphere – until the thrill of the chase gives way to an extreme drama in the last 30 minutes of the film. But even the most effective moments here prove the point that Fuqua’s epic is, like the image that inspired it, a movie that reveals what “slavery really felt like.”

In any case, “Emancipation” ends up being a movie that doesn’t say anything like modern artists. create again pictures of what slavery is like, and under what financial conditions they can do it. I wish it had done more to create its own atmosphere, but with a nine-figure budget, the awards season popularity needed to justify it, and the critical acclaim that came with it, freedom was always easy for this film. making more drama than he could have imagined.

Grade: C+

Apple will release “Emancipation” in select theaters on Friday, December 2. It will be available to watch on Apple TV+ starting Friday, December 9.

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