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

“The Slip” catapulted Antoine Foucault’s film into the Oscar spotlight, but this violent slavery thriller wasn’t built for such expectations.

An over-inflated B-movie with big golden illusions, Antoine Fuqua’s totally Oscar-laden “Emancipation” is the kind of dirty mischief that can only happen because Hollywood is going off its axis. Because the American film industry sacrificed mid-budget programmers on the altar of the single-franchise blockbuster, original stories could only be expected to be told if they fed the awards machine and/or created a sense of cultural significance. do That’s how you come across the director of “Olympus Has Fallen,” creating a jaw-dropping slavery epic that desperately wants to be something a little too small — and a little too important.

It was never an option. By virtue of its release date, subject matter, and star power alone, “Emancipation” is made to be viewed through the same narrow lens of the system that produced it, and “The Slip” — for whatever character it is. An existential threat related to this. The Oscars—surprisingly the film’s annual horse race—did much to combine its spending in Hollywood’s annual horse race.

“The Redemption” is based on the true story of Gordon (referred to here as Peter), a man who was captured in a series of keloids-dubbed photographs. Visiting card Photographs taken at a Union camp in Baton Rouge when he escaped from a plantation some 40 miles away and survived a 10-day trek across a deadly swamp; His broken hindsight was then used to help the abolitionist movement convey the atrocities of slavery to the unbelieving world.

The ruthless brutality that Foucault has created about him has a similar effect on modern audiences, whose imaginations may struggle to comprehend the greatest sins of the 19th century, and/or recognize the real dangers facing America. Unresolved biases persist. As we move deeper into the 21st. That’s a great ambition for a movie, but it’s not ambitious this The film is made to achieve.

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Here’s a $130 million prestige picture that better reflects the outcome of “The Revenant” than The Revenant (Foucault’s epic feels every bit as silly and tragic as Alejandro González Iñárritu’s largely similar Best Picture nominee, if you please (never). “Employment” itself highlights the true horrors of human slavery at the same time as it quickly places action set pieces, allowing Ben Foster to step in as the Southern-bred Amun Goth. Remove the desire to bring the hero of the story. And — best of all — will have Smith fighting an alligator with a knife in a scene that feels all the more ridiculous because it’s rendered in some of the most beautiful underwater monochrome cinematography since “Night of the Hunter.”

(At one point on the more serious subjects in this allegedly serious film, that is Same alligator (Escape from nowhere and slip into a slavish escape, offering the kind of popcorn-spitting shock that feels more at home in a summer blockbuster than it does.)

American moviegoers are used to consuming their history lessons with a heavy layer of artificial butter on top, but William N. Coolidge’s script filters Gordon’s story through many of Hollywood’s craziest tropes that over-cranked genre stuff. Feels more honest by comparison. . At least the opening scene where Peter smashes the door frame from the plantation’s slave quarters as he is pulled away from his family registers with raw emotional truth.




If only the same could be said for the character’s passionate Christian faith, which continues to watch his fellow captors get killed, and kills a slave catcher with a metal cross he finds on the body of a dead child. found in Or the sudden fourth act pivots in the realm of “Glory,” which begins with Davis’ ex Mustafa Shakir ending Foster’s plot in a less than satisfactory manner, and then just minutes later Peter impressively He repeats himself as the greatest soldier in the world. Noting that “Cowboy Bebop” survived the shocker’s extraordinary screen presence goes a long way. Gordon really learned did To go from a human “concubine” to a Union Army hero in the space of a few short weeks has the opposite effect, as “Liberty” dramatizes the transformation with a ham-fisted festivity that makes the most salient facts of this story seem bogus.

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And put it up for Charmaine Benguet, as the brilliant “Fight the Good” breakout is given worse than nothing in a Penelope-like role as Peter’s wife. It would be one thing if she just had a role as the North Star that lures her back to her family, but “Freedom” also forces the actress to deliver a tight monologue in cold sweat before using her character. . tough Cheap suspension after an hour.

For his part, Smith gives a simple but promising turn as a man who will stop at nothing to return home, as the word should be for anyone so enslaved (Peter on the Confederate Railroad as taken to work). Considering all of this “The Revenant” stuff, a cynic might think of Smith’s work as a movie star’s presentation before winning an Oscar (in the story, Peter burns himself in mud, shit, and onions). , and it’s true that “Emancipation” was in the works before Smith emerged as the best actor for “King Richard.” A more generous view might conclude that Smith’s uncomplicated stoicism helps Peter lead us through Hell without disempowering us from it, a character who is the epitome of Fuqua’s dismembered bodies, twisted heads. And the broken soldiers serve as guides on Virgilian’s journey through an increasingly phantasmagoric hell.




If “Freedom” is filled with images of black suffering, perhaps viewers can take some solace in the fact that these images rarely look more captured than they do through Robert Richardson’s camera. The cinematographer of “Jango Unchained” and “Bringing Out the Dead” captures the film’s lush New Orleans set in an ultra-desaturated grayscale that makes it hard to tell if the footage was shot in color and in real life. Dried in one inch, or fired. In black and white and with splashes of color – red fire, green plants – on the post. Smoke is indistinguishable from air.

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Warm daytime scenes veer dangerously close to Zack Snyder territory, while nighttime scenes are kissed with a noirish luminescence that suggests a bad fever dream. It’s a boldly restrained approach for a film that takes place in the volatile part of time that separated the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863 from the country’s adoption of the Emancipation Proclamation in June 1865; Each thrilling step of Peter’s journey from the Ben Foster Railroad to Baton Rouge and beyond lands on the uncertain ground between suffering and salvation.

The emphasis on suspense and aesthetics makes for an easier sitting than “Freedom” given its harsh setting and dehumanization—at least until the chase gives way to considerable drama in the film’s final 30 minutes. But even the most effective moments here betray the sense that Foucault’s fiction is like the image that inspired it, a film that describes “what slavery really feels like.”

Whatever its purpose, “Emancipation” is ultimately a film that reveals nothing like modern artists. rebuilding Images of what slavery feels like, and under what financial circumstances they can do it. I wish it had done more to create its own context, but with a nine-figure budget, the prestige of the awards season was necessary to justify it, and the resulting widespread scandal that eventually came with it, this film Freedom was always easy. Dramatizing than imagining for yourself.

Grade: C+

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

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